A novel 3D surgical neuroanatomy course for medical students: Outcomes from a pilot 6-week elective

Alexander I. Evins, Michael Rothbaum, Nam Hee Kim, Sergio W. Guadix, Deborah Boyette, Jimmy J. Xia, Philip E. Stieg, Antonio Bernardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Developing and maintaining a three-dimensional working knowledge of neuroanatomy is an essential skill in neurosurgery. However, conventional 2D head, neck, and neuroanatomy education is typically characterized by the separate rote learning of constituent tissues and often fails to provide learners with a contextual understanding of the relationships between these highly complex and interconnected structures. This can pose a significant challenge to medical students entering neurosurgery who lack a topographic understanding of intracranial anatomy. Methods: We report on the design and efficacy of a novel 6-part 3D surgical neuroanatomy pilot elective for medical students that utilized a navigation-based pedagogical technique with the goal of providing students with a framework for developing a 3D mental map of the skull base, neurovasculature, ventricular system, and associated brain regions. Students took on the perspective of physically traveling along the paths of key structures with a 360-degree view of surrounding anatomy such that they could appreciate the integration and relative spatial relationships of the varying tissues within the cranium. Mental navigation exercises and pre- and post-course surveys were used to assess students’ baseline and learned familiarity with the different anatomical regions covered. Results: At the conclusion of the course, all students were able to successfully complete all of the multifaceted mental navigation exercises. Post-course survey data indicated that respondents perceived significant increases in their knowledge of cranial nerves; anterior, middle, and posterior skull base anatomy; anterior and posterior cranial circulation; and the ventricular system. Conclusion: 3D navigation-based fly-through instruction is a novel and effective technique for teaching complex anatomy and can provide learners with the foundational skills for developing and maintaining a 3D mental map of intracranial anatomy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-97
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Clinical Neuroscience
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • 3D
  • Anatomy
  • Medical education
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Neurophobia
  • Surgical neuroanatomy
  • Teaching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)


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