MSc in Clinical Anatomy

Grace is a fourth-year medical student at Queen’s University, Belfast. In this article, she writes about her intercalated MSc degree in Clinical Anatomy.

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I have just completed my intercalated degree and successfully gained an MSc in Clinical Anatomy with distinction from Queen’s University, Belfast, where I am currently a fourth-year medical student. The experience has been challenging and rewarding, and in completing the course, I have gained new knowledge and skills and honed existing ones. 

My decision to intercalate was primarily based on my aspiration to pursue surgery as my chosen specialism in the future. From the very beginning of medical school, my passion has always been rooted in surgery. From the first dissection sessions, it was apparent that the clinical anatomy modules closely aligned with surgical procedures, laying the foundation knowledge and manual dexterity skills as I now study surgery as a senior medical student.  Hence, pursuing an MSc in Clinical Anatomy seemed the next logical step on the road to core surgical training, as it afforded me the opportunity for focused study on such areas as radiological anatomy, microscopic anatomy and embryology.  The appeal of the course was further enhanced by the fact that it is not exclusively designed for clinicians but also for allied health professionals and future anatomy teachers. Given that all of my time in higher education has been spent exclusively with like-minded medical students, this offered a refreshing change of environment and perspective.

I was in the fortunate position that Queen’s University Belfast offered the MSc in Clinical Anatomy as being from Northern Ireland, I was able to live at home during my intercalated year thereby helping to offset the costs of an additional year’s study. 

The course outline:

Applied Anatomy of the Trunk:

    • Covering the trunk, abdomen, pelvis and associated regions.

Applied Anatomy of the Head, Neck and Brain: 

    • Covering the head, neck, central nervous system and cranial nerves.

Applied Anatomy of the Limbs and Back:

    • Covering the upper and lower limbs and the back.

Anatomy Project:

    • A research project overseen by an academic supervisor, undertaken in the summer months from June – to September after the examination period. 

A Typical Week

A typical week involved nine hours of face-to-face teaching split over three consecutive days, with one of these three days being allocated to each of the above modules.  These sessions were based on the study of embalmed human specimens and their radiology.  On a given day there would normally be a one-hour lecture followed by two hours in the dissection room under the guidance of an anatomy demonstrator.  On several occasions, we welcomed guest speakers who were leading surgeons in their surgical specialities from hospitals across Northern Ireland.  Exposure to such expertise was a personal highlight of the course as I could see first-hand how the clinical anatomy I was learning was being applied at the cutting edge of modern surgical procedures. 


As the course progressed, we were assessed through written reports, specimen analyses, oral and poster presentations, and practical examinations.  These were spread across the year which allowed us to have continued progression towards our final degree.  In April and May students undertook written examinations covering all aspects of the anatomy programme studied.  The Anatomy Project was started in June and over the summer months, I conducted my research and formulated this into a research paper.  This concluded with an oral presentation in October to a panel of anatomists who questioned me to assess my level of knowledge, understanding and application of my chosen research topic.

Positives of the course

This course has definitely increased my knowledge of clinical and applied anatomy, subsequently preparing me for a potential career in the sphere of general surgery.  Since completing my MSc degree, I have scrubbed into theatre several times, where the practical benefit of the course is readily apparent in the enhancement of my understanding and identification of the gross anatomy.  This degree provides a firm foundation of knowledge that closely aligns to the MRCS Part A exam which is undertaken by those applying for surgical training.  Undertaking a supervised research project is a great opportunity to develop a partnership with renowned academics who provide continual support and guidance through each stage of the process.  My research project has opened the door for publication in international journals as well as providing exciting opportunities for oral and poster presentations at regional and international conferences in various locations around the world.  The attainment of an MSc, published research and presentation of research work can greatly boost the points required for the highly competitive application process for core surgical training. 


Despite it being a demanding course with long hours of independent study, it did allow me the flexibility to engage in extra-curricular opportunities that are not always easy to maintain during medical school because of the many contact hours and moving from hospital to hospital for placements.

Negatives of the course

While there are many positives of intercalating, it should also be acknowledged that there were significant challenges.  With only nine hours of face-to-face teaching, the onus is on the student to undertake self-directed learning, therefore you must be driven and self-motivated to keep on top of your studies.  Despite the NHS bursary substantially covering the cost of the degree, the loss of a student maintenance loan can be challenging for some students and sadly financial struggles can be the determining factor in whether students choose to undertake an intercalated degree.

Final Word

The decision to intercalate was undoubtedly the right one for me as it has strengthened my desire to pursue a career in surgery while at the same time giving me a competitive edge through the accumulation of points towards the core surgical training application process.  Furthermore, my knowledge and skill base have been broadened thus promoting my confidence in theatre to expect and deal with variant anatomy. Last, but not least, I have greatly honed my skills of interrogating and critically appraising papers upon which my clinical practice will be based.   


If you would like to find out more about an MSc in Clinical Anatomy at Queen’s University Belfast, please visit the website using the link below.  This also provides information regarding accommodation for students, postgraduate library access and a more detailed summary of the course content and entry requirements when applying.


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