Should You Take Anatomy And Physiology Before Med School?

You have probably heard the phrase “Medical school is like drinking water from a fire hydrant.” Meaning that the amount of study material that is thrown at you is impossible to consume 100%. There is just too much. 

Is there a way to prepare for this overload of work?

Many students like to take anatomy and physiology, arguably the 2 biggest courses you take during the first year of medical school, in undergrad so they can be somewhat prepared. In this post, I will outline everything you should consider about taking anatomy and physiology before medical school. 

Is Anatomy And Physiology Required For Medical School?

Is anatomy or physiology a prerequisite for medical school? For the vast majority of medical schools, the answer is no. However, some actually require it. To name a few, Creighton University: School of Medicine and the University of Arizona: College of Medicine

If you are applying to a lot of medical schools, like most students do, make sure you are careful about reviewing all of the course requirements.

Benefits Of Taking Anatomy And Physiology Before Medical School

Let’s discuss the pros and cons of taking anatomy and physiology before medical school. Starting with the benefits.

Anatomy And Physiology Will Be More Of A “Review” Instead Of “Learning” In Medical School

Having a preexisting knowledge of anatomy and physiology is very helpful before medical school. Although you will forget somethings, the long-term memory aspect remains.

When you approach anatomy or physiology in medical school having already learned it, you may end up seeing the material from a new perspective and develop a better understanding!

Anatomy And Physiology Can Be Helpful For The MCAT

There is anatomy and physiology material on the MCAT. Yes your general biology courses cover the basics and it will be enough, but a better understanding of anatomy and physiology received through taking advanced courses will be highly beneficial. 

Your Premed Major May Require It Anyway

Make sure you double-check your major requirements. If you are majoring in Biology you might be required to take it anyway. 

Disadvantages Of Taking Anatomy And Physiology Before Medical School

It’s possible you might have better uses for your time in undergrad than taking anatomy or physiology. Here are the potential disadvantages if you are struggling with this decision.

Anatomy In Medical School Is On A Different Level Than College

A lot of the time, taking anatomy in college can be somewhat of a blow-off course just to get a good grade. Unless you really apply yourself and go beyond the requirements for getting that A. 

Medical school anatomy, on the other hand, is memorization and understanding of the human body like you have never done before. Imagine having to pinpoint every organ, muscle, bone, blood vessel, duct, gland, and even nerve on a cadaver! Well, that’s your anatomy practical for you. 

There is a good chance you get into medical school and you quickly learn more in anatomy in one week than you did your entire undergrad. 

The point here is that even though it can help, it won’t give you much of a leg up on the other students. You all will quickly be on the same playing field. 

Quick caveat. Not all premed anatomy classes are the same. It’s possible your teacher has a high-quality anatomy class which may make it more worth it to take!

There May Be Better Things To Do With Your Time In Undergrad

4 years go by really fast and your time in undergrad is very valuable. Think about whether or not anatomy and physiology are wasting your time which could be spent doing more extracurriculars or taking a more valuable upper-level biology course.

It Could Hurt Your GPA

I know I said earlier that anatomy can sometimes be an easy course to take in college, but this is not always the case. It really depends on your school, sometimes anatomy can be very difficult and time intensive. Additionally, physiology is almost always a difficult class. If you end up taking both, you could risk getting lower grades and hurting your overall GPA!

Should I Take Anatomy Or Physiology First?

You want to take anatomy first. Anatomy is the building block for physiology and it never changes. Physiology on the other hand expects you to have an understanding of the anatomical structures and studies how the human body functions and reacts to different scenarios. 

In other words, you will have much easier time figuring out the functions of your body if you know what it structurally looks like!

Is Anatomy And Physiology Hard

It really depends on where you take it. In Medical School, yes anatomy and physiology are considered difficult courses. Not because the material is hard to understand, but because there is so much information thrown at you in a short period of time.

In undergrad, anatomy and physiology can be difficult or rather easy depending on where you take it. At my school, anatomy was easy and physiology was pretty difficult. 

premed students talking

Make sure you consult with students who have already taken these courses! If anatomy or physiology tends to be a very difficult course at your college, then maybe it’s not worth risking hurting your GPA. On the other hand, if you are confident in your abilities, these courses could really help you get started in medical school. 

Is Physiology Harder Than Anatomy?

The answer to this question really depends on the individual. Speaking broadly here, anatomy tends to be more about memorization and physiology tends to be more about the application. 

Generally speaking, most medical school students are better at memorizing and would therefore consider anatomy the easier subject. 

For me, this was not the case. I am not good at memorizing things but my brain is wired in a way that applying concepts I learned from one course to another is pretty straightforward. 

Physiology is about understanding what is going on as opposed to memorizing a list of anatomical parts. If this is your strong suit then you will find physiology easier than anatomy. If you are great at memorizing but struggle with applying things then you will find physiology harder than anatomy. 

Should I Take Anatomy Or Physiology Before The MCAT?

As I mentioned earlier, there is anatomy and physiology on the MCAT. So yes, there is a benefit to taking these courses before taking the MCAT.

However, even though it’s helpful, doesn’t mean that it’s necessary or even more helpful than other upper level biology courses. 


Really all the anatomy and physiology on the MCAT is taught during your general biology course. If you happen to take anatomy before the MCAT then great, but if you are trying to take the most valuable pre-MCAT courses then you want to turn your attention to courses like biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology.

Should I Take Anatomy In High School?

Aside from getting into a good college, what you take in high school really doesn’t matter for medical school. If you have the chance to take anatomy in high school, I say go for it. 

A class like anatomy can really give you an idea of what it is like to study medicine and if it is something you enjoy. There is a huge benefit to learning early on whether or not studying medicine is right for you.

However, in terms of helping study for your biology classes in college, taking anatomy in high school will not help that much for that.

Conclusion: Should I Take Anatomy And Physiology Before Med School?

If you have read this entire article then you can see how the answer to this question is not very straightforward. The reality is that this depends on your specific situation.

I will say that I did take anatomy and physiology in undergrad. In retrospect, I believe that anatomy and physiology were not all that helpful for medical school. Not enough to turn down other courses that would have been more helpful for me. 

For instance, I ended up not taking biochemistry which made it much more difficult for me when it was time to take the MCAT which has a TON of biochemistry on it. Also, I could have benefited more from taking molecular biology. 

If you have the extra time then go for it. There is a benefit to taking anatomy and physiology to some degree. But if you are juggling anatomy and physiology with other upper-level biology courses like biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology, then I recommend taking those courses first. 

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