6 Best Anatomy books for medical students (reviewed)

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Anatomy is one of the major subjects you will encounter in med school. It is mostly a visual field, but there is also an important theoretical part.

For visual learning, an anatomy atlas will illustrate all the anatomical regions you need to know. For the theoretical part, a clinical anatomy book will provide everything you need to succeed in this subject.

Personally, I had both an anatomy atlas and a textbook. I went for Netter’s atlas of human anatomy, and Moore’s clinically oriented anatomy (links to Amazon). I found both books to cover the subject brilliantly, and I can highly recommend them.

You might still ask yourself if it is necessary with both? And if there are other alternatives?

These are valid questions to ask before getting your anatomy book(s). With that in mind, let’s take a look a the best and most popular choices for anatomy atlases and textbooks for medical students.

Before we get started, remember that the subject is thought differently between universities. Thus, you should consult your university’s book recommendations. Even so, the books listed here should cover everything required for the average medical Anatomy course.

If you want to know more about the process I used to evaluate these books. Read my article about evaluating medical textbooks.

Netter’s atlas of human anatomy

Netter’s anatomy atlas is one of the best-selling and most popular anatomy atlases on the market. It was my go-to anatomy atlas during med school, in fact, I still have it to this day.

This atlas contains hundreds of anatomical illustrations of the entire human anatomy. These include everything from internal organs to bare bones.

Almost all are painted by the late, great American surgeon and medical illustrator Frank H. Netter.

You might think that painted illustrations don’t translate well to what you see in real life. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

Netter’s illustrations have been painted with meticulous attention to detail. They do an excellent job of presenting anatomy in a clear manner.

Besides the level of detail, the illustrations are colored in a way that makes the structures distinct from each other.

Netter’s work has been compiled into the popular anatomy atlas bearing his name since 1989. It is currently printed in its 7th edition.

This atlas contains all the illustrations you will ever need for your anatomy studies in one single bind. The book offers great quality for the price, which has made it a student favorite for years.

You can check it out yourself by clicking this link to head over to Amazon. Here you can get a sneak preview as well as check out the current price.

Thieme Atlas of anatomy (Gilroy’s)

The Thieme atlases are another student’s favorite, which included many of my peers in med school.

This is no coincidence as this atlas offers hundreds of detailed illustrations. Although not as good as Netters, in my opinion.

Different from Netter’s, the illustrations are sometimes supplemented with tables and boxes.

These tables can include various clinically relevant information. For example, there are tables with information about the origin, insertion, and innervation of various muscles.

It also employs a transparency technique in some sections. This shows how various anatomical structures are layered in some parts of the body.

The Thieme atlas of human anatomy comes as a single bind, a complete atlas. It also comes as a 3 volume series covering different areas of the human anatomy:

  • General & musculoskeletal
  • Head-neck and neuroanatomy
  • Internal organs.

I would recommend going for the single complete bind. It’s cheaper and more practical.

Yet, I remember many of my fellow students chose to buy the head, neck, and neuroanatomy volume separately to cover the neuroanatomy in greater detail.

The complete atlas is currently printed in its 3rd edition. You can check it out by following this link to Amazon. There you can get a preview of the book as well as see its current price.

If you’re interested, you can also check out the head, neck and neuroanatomy volume, as well as the remaining two of the 3 volume series.

Anatomy: A photographic atlas (Rohen’s)

Rohen’s anatomy atlas separates itself from both Netter’s and Thieme. Here, the illustrations are actual pictures of carefully dissected cadavers.

This has made this atlas a favorite among some students. They usually find it easier to study from pictures as opposed to illustrations.

It is easy to understand why. The cadavers are beautifully dissected and the images are of high resolution.

The only downside with Rohens atlas is that it can sometimes be a bit difficult to see the fine and subtle difference between some structures.

Because of this, many of the illustrations are provided with color labeling to help you differentiate the various structures.

Available in print in its 8th edition, is a bit more expensive compared to the other atlases. But, it can well be worth the price if you find real-life pictures more compelling.

You should definitely have a sneak preview and check its current price. The pictures of the head and neck region are outstanding.

Moore’s Clinically oriented anatomy

Moore’s clinically oriented anatomy gives you a comprehensive insight into clinical human anatomy.

Unlike the atlases, it is a textbook with a special focus on the relevant clinical anatomy.

This includes anatomy involved in physical diagnosis and interpretation of diagnostic imaging. Also, it tackles the anatomical aspects of emergency medicine and general surgery.

This textbook was my go-to book whenever I needed to supplement with some theoretical knowledge.

It will give you a lot more information than what is needed for your anatomy course. But, this is what makes this book so great as it will serve you well in other subjects later in your studies.

I found myself using it from physiology to radiology, orthopedics, surgery, and internal medicine.

Unlike some books which you never use again, I had and used this book throughout all my 6 years in med school. In fact, I still use it to this day.

I like how it presents the material in an orderly fashion, as well as its frequent use of clinical blue boxes.

These contain various clinical highlights about everything from anatomical variations, trauma, diagnostic and surgical procedures.

Follow this link to check it out for yourself as well as get the current price on Amazon.

Thieme Anatomy: An essential textbook

Thieme’s anatomy textbook is what you might describe as an extensive review book. It is somewhat less comprehensive than the other textbooks.

Yet, with close to 500 pages of high yield anatomy, it more than provides what you will need for your average medical school anatomy course.

The book presents anatomy topics from head to toe with the widespread use of colorful diagrams and informative tables.

Also, blue clinical boxes are scattered throughout the book. These give you a short explanation of the clinical relevance of the anatomy being discussed.

It is praised for its high yield presentation and affordable price point. This has also made it a student favorite in anatomy courses worldwide.

Also, it has become a preferred book when studying for the USMLE. One reason is that each chapter includes a collection of USMLE style questions.

Although some students and teachers might point out it’s less comprehensive nature. This textbook is sure to serve you well for your anatomy studies.

This should make it one of your considerations when choosing an anatomy textbook.  

You can follow this link to get its current price on Amazon. Here you can compare its price with other alternatives and get a sneak preview.

Grays anatomy for students

Like Moore’s clinically oriented anatomy, this textbook is a comprehensive piece of work. It covers all aspects of human anatomy, as well as its relevance in everyday clinical work.

Also, its 1000+ pages are packed with colorful diagrams, illustrations, tables, and real-life radiographs like x-rays and CT scans.

Much of the clinical relevance of the anatomy, is highlighted in “in the clinic” boxes throughout the book. Also, it features extensive case reports for even higher clinical yield.

This makes this book applicable to much more than your average anatomy course. Like Moore’s, it continues to serve you well throughout your medical studies and beyond.

If you are considering getting a comprehensive anatomy textbook, this book should be on your shortlist.

To help you decide you can check it out for yourself by clicking this link to head over to Amazon. Here you can see get a preview and see the current price.

Which anatomy book to choose?

The first thing you have to consider is whether to get both an anatomical atlas and a textbook.

As mentioned, I had both, and I was able to continue to use the textbook through all 6 years due to its clinical material.

In my experience, the vast majority of students get their own anatomy atlas. Some get a textbook as well, while others rely on notes or the web for theoretical knowledge.

Some students only buy the textbook. They also have plenty of illustrations, and if they need more they can find them on the web.

Both will work fine, and what you choose to do is entirely up to you. The most important thing is to choose a textbook and/or atlas that appeal to your style of learning.

Also, you want to make sure it is comprehensive in scope and discussion for medical school. In case you wondered, the latter is true for all the books discussed here.

Explore your options

Like pointed out above, it is important to choose a book that suits you. To figure this out, set aside a little time to go through your potential candidates.

You can do this online or in a bookstore selling medical textbooks. You can also seek them out in the school library. Sit down with them and go through a couple of topics.

With the atlases, it is most important to find where you like the illustrations. The reason is that virtually all these books contain page after page with labeled anatomical illustrations or pictures.

With the textbook, you should pay attention to the format, as well as how the information is structured and presented.

Take the time to read through a couple of topics. This way, you can get a feel for how it presents the material. Did you understand it straight away, or if you find it difficult?

You should also look for intuitive illustrations, diagrams, and informative tables.

Get recommendations

When in med school, chances are that your university will publish book recommendations. Seek them out to get an idea of which books your teaching institution thinks are best suited for how they teach the subject.

You don’t need to get a book before you start. You can always delay your book purchases into the first couple of weeks. This enables you to ask your teacher/professor in the subject for his/her recommendations.

Keep in mind that professors, like students, tend to have their personal favorites. Also, professors, who are experts in their respective fields, can have a tendency to like very comprehensive books.

These might be wonderful for professors and Ph.D. students, but not the best for the average medical student.

One of the greatest sources for recommendations is your fellow and former students. Keep in mind that many of your fellow students might be as clueless as you.

When it comes to former students, they are most likely to have favorites that they strongly recommend.

You should think twice if these are the books they used themselves and are now trying to sell to you. Try to find students that give you unbiased recommendations.

The best recommendations are from former students who recommend the books they decided to keep after completing the course.

Bottom line

No matter where or from who you get recommendations, don’t follow one single recommendation blindly.

Make a shortlist with the alternatives from your recommending sources. Then do a little research to find the one you like the most. You won’t regret it as many medical textbooks tend to cost well over $50 dollars brand new.

If you would like to save some money buying your books, be on the lookout for second-hand books from other students.

You can also check out whether there are any used copies being sold through Amazon. Here you can find books for less than half the price of a new one.

I hope this article helped you on your quest for finding the anatomy books that are right for you.