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Summary

Background:  The brachial plexus has posed problems for both students and teachers throughout generations of medical education. The anatomy is intricate, and traditional pictorial representations can be difficult to understand and learn. Few innovative teaching methods have been reported.

Context:  The basic anatomy of the brachial plexus is core knowledge required by medical students to aid clinical examination and diagnosis. A more detailed understanding is necessary for a variety of specialists, including surgeons, anaesthetists and radiologists.

Innovation:  Here, we present a novel, cheap and interactive method of teaching the brachial plexus. Using coloured pipe cleaners, teachers and students can construct three-dimensional models using different colours to denote the origin and outflow of each nerve. The three-dimensional nature of the model also allows for a better understanding of certain intricacies of the plexus. Students may use these models as adjuncts for self study, didactic lectures and tutorials.

Implications:  Compared with traditional textbooks and whiteboards, the pipe-cleaner model was preferred by medical students, and provided a higher level of student satisfaction. This was demonstrated and analysed using student feedback forms. Our model could be incorporated into current curricula to provide an effective and enjoyable way of rapidly teaching a difficult concept. Other such novel methods for teaching complex anatomical principles should be encouraged and explored.