What is an Anatomist?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An anatomist is someone who specializes in anatomy, the physical structure of an organism. He or she may be a student or a full-fledged expert in the field, focusing on human anatomy, animal anatomy, or plant anatomy. Anatomists are very important to the biological sciences, and they have played a vital role in research and discovery for centuries. Anatomy should not be confused with pathology, which is the study of diseased organisms, although the two fields can sometimes overlap.

Some anatomists will specialize in the endocrine system.
Some anatomists will specialize in the endocrine system.

An anatomist can work on gross anatomy, which involves structures which can be easily seen by the eye, as well as microscopic anatomy, which involves the examination of samples under microscopy to learn more about details which can only be seen at a microscopic level. Gross anatomy is a part of the training curriculum in many medical schools, with students getting an opportunity to dissect a body to learn about the structures it contains.

The science of microscopic anatomy was discovered by Italian biologist Marcello Malpighi.
The science of microscopic anatomy was discovered by Italian biologist Marcello Malpighi.

An anatomist may work as an instructor in a medical school or science program. Anatomists can also work as researchers in scientific facilities and universities. In addition to dealing with actual specimens which may be dissected and examined, an anatomist can also work with historical texts to study trends in anatomy and scientific knowledge, and he or she may work with medical imaging studies and other types of images which depict anatomical structures of interest.

An anatomist may specialize in the skeletal system.
An anatomist may specialize in the skeletal system.

Some anatomists are primarily interested in specific systems, such as the skeletal system, endocrine system, or cardiovascular system. They devote the bulk of their work to understanding these systems and seeing how they operate, and learning about how systems of the body interact with each other. Others simply want to learn about whole organisms; the field of zootomy, for example, focuses on the anatomy of animals, and information about the anatomy of rare animals may be difficult to find. A phytotomist who focuses on plants may also opt to specialize in a particular family, genus, or species of plants to provide a more complete picture.

People who are interested in anatomy as a career will need at least a bachelor of science degree. Many anatomists have masters or doctoral degrees which allow them to engage in high level teaching and research, and some complete postdoctoral work under the supervision of notable members of the field. Being an anatomist can be a very interesting job, as anatomists get a chance to see what is normally hidden, and to explore the mysteries of the organisms they study.

An anatomist may work with medical imaging studies that depict anatomical areas of interest.
An anatomist may work with medical imaging studies that depict anatomical areas of interest.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@JessiC - I can totally relate to your point of view. While I personally find the anatomy of the human body fascinating and awe inspiring, I can't imagine standing over specimens day after day looking for something new and different.

On the other hand, I think anatomists who have jobs teaching hold some of the most important jobs in the world. I mean, can you imagine a doctor getting his or her degree without first going through a gross anatomy class taught by an expert? I shudder at the thought!

Ultimately though, I think you are right in that it takes a very special type of person with a very particular type of personality to be a good anatomist...without going crazy anyway.


I don’t know. I just don’t see how anyone could stand looking at anatomy all day long. Maybe I have just a little too much energy for that sort of job, but I think I’d go stir crazy.

Don’t get me wrong now. I know that these guys and gals have some really important jobs. I just don’t think I could stand to do it myself.

So, to all of you low-keyed anatomists in the world, “Thanks!”

I really just don’t think I could manage it! I suppose it’s like the old saying goes; it’s a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it.


An anatomist, I think, has one of the most wonderful jobs in the world. Sure, I can imagine that it has its share of headaches and moments of really wanting to be outside of the laboratory. But all in all it seems like a very interesting field of study.

The reason is this. It seems that the anatomist is perhaps one of the closest people to fully understand part of the hand of God. They get to really look and see how each little piece is put together; to me it is amazing.

I know that there are a good many scientists out there who are not of the God-believing variety. I’ll tell you what though. How anyone can be that close to seeing the miracle of life everyday doesn’t believe in God is just beyond me.

That’s just my opinion and means absolutely no offense to anyone at all.


I became an anatomist because I have always found anatomy incredibly intriguing. Just the way that each organ of each life form, whether plant or animal, works together is amazing.

To think that each one of these small pieces are fitted together to make every living thing in the entire world is something that makes anatomy a beautiful and splendid thing.

That it is difficult to understand and comprehend is without a doubt, else it would be of no use to study it. Anatomy is one of those amazing puzzles that have no beginning and no real end, because just when we think we have it all figured out we realize that we have only just begun.

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