What is Gross Anatomy?

wiseGEEK Writer

The word anatomy derives from Greek and translates loosely to "cutting up" or "through." Gross has many definitions but the one that applies to the term gross anatomy can be translated as visible to the eye, as opposed to microscopic. Gross anatomy can thus be defined as study of the visible or non-microscopic parts of the body. This includes parts of the body that aren’t visible on the surface but that can be visualized through other methods like scans, x-rays, or dissection of cadavers.

The opposite of gross anatomy is microscopic anatomy, a science discovered by Italian biologist Marcello Malpighi.
The opposite of gross anatomy is microscopic anatomy, a science discovered by Italian biologist Marcello Malpighi.

Understanding the structure of the body or gross anatomy is essential in many medical fields. Though medical science may lean more on how things operate at the microscopic level, visible structures can also say much about wellness or disease. For instance, enlargement of a part of the body, such as the heart, is hugely significant from a medical standpoint, and points to specific diseases or conditions. Understanding the baseline or what is considered normal appearance of visible structures helps to determine abnormality or presence of disease.

Gross anatomy may include parts of the body that can only be seen on X-rays or other types of scans.
Gross anatomy may include parts of the body that can only be seen on X-rays or other types of scans.

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To this end, there are a number of medical professionals who study gross anatomy preparatory to working in medicine. Training nurses, doctors, and other medical experts may participate in classes where they learn all parts of the body. These are usually hands on courses that involve dissecting cadavers, so each area and part of the body can be looked at and felt, for better understanding of gross anatomy. Some classes teach this subject in a theoretical manner only, in which case, texts or other media would help define the various body parts.

Some medical professionals have studied gross anatomy before working in medicine.
Some medical professionals have studied gross anatomy before working in medicine.

There has been a trend toward forgoing dissection in some gross anatomy classes and using virtual gross anatomy classes instead. While this may be cheaper, it is argued by some doctors that it’s a mistake not to let medical school students feel and understand the real thing. Participating in dissection may not be pretty or pleasant, but it often provides a proving ground for people in medical school or nurse training. Learning to stay focused and calm any shock reactions to the cutting up of a human body may be useful when doctors or nurses treat people with significant injuries that have exposed parts of the body not normally visible.

Gross anatomy is the study of the visible parts of the body.
Gross anatomy is the study of the visible parts of the body.

However, for the person simply interested in learning about the visible body structures or studying gross anatomy from a theoretical viewpoint, there are some terrific applications available. There are textbooks, which can help acquire this information. Alternately, programs like The Visible Body®, which does charge a subscription fee, offers 3D modeling of the human body that is extremely realistic. It can either be used to enhance more traditional study of gross anatomy or as a study guide of its own.

An understanding of gross anatomy is needed to create bodybuilding programs.
An understanding of gross anatomy is needed to create bodybuilding programs.
Understanding how a normal human heart should look helps an anatomy student identify when something is amiss with the organ.
Understanding how a normal human heart should look helps an anatomy student identify when something is amiss with the organ.
Participating in dissection is seen as a proving ground for medical school or nurse training.
Participating in dissection is seen as a proving ground for medical school or nurse training.

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