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Stanford medical student illustrates mnemonics

Medical students frequently turn to mnemonics to master human anatomy, but they're usually just catchy phrases. Now, Nick Love, a second-year Stanford medical student, has created a more entertaining way to memorize anatomy: a set of illustrated mnemonics, which he has published in the form of a book and website. I spoke recently with Love about his project.

What inspired you to illustrate the anatomic mnemonics?

When I began medical school, I was totally unaware of the central role mnemonics play in medical education and beyond. They are everywhere! Their sometimes wacky and ridiculous wordings intrigued me — I wondered if they could serve as a unique source of 'found imagery,' starting points for visual exploration. I brought up this idea with Audrey Shafer, MD, director of the Biomedical Ethics and Humanities medical school track, and she kindly encouraged me and linked me up with an awesome mentor for the project, pediatric anesthesiologist and painter Samuel Rodriguez, MD.

Where did you get the mnemonics and how did you choose your illustration style?

They are all essentially common med school mnemonics. Fourteen of the 16 mnemonics were passed on to us as medical students, mainly by our clinical anatomy teaching assistants via the ‘whiteboards’ in the anatomy lab. I sourced one mnemonic directly from the internet, and I altered another because its original form was too raunchy for publication. At the moment, I am, unfortunately, too behind on too many things to add more.

In terms of illustration, I was motivated to try a digital-analog-digital process. I’m currently intrigued by combining the reproducibility of computer-aided illustration with the inherent chaos of spreading paint or ink. Also, I wanted to maximize color usage, insert a bit of whimsy into the illustrations and experiment with recursive imagery.

Do you have a favorite mnemonic?

My favorite mnemonic is 'canned soup, really good in cans.' It helps one remember the branches of the descending aorta — canned soup, really good in cans, representing celiac, superior mesenteric, renal, gonadal, inferior mesenteric and common iliac arteries. The phrase 'canned soup, really good in cans' strikes me as rather humorous, like it was made for an ad campaign at the time when soup was first put into cans. Genius, whoever came up with it.

Do you have any art training? Who are your favorite artists?

Before coming to medical school, my training was mainly in science. However, last year I took two art classes at Stanford, 'Digital Photography' and 'Video Compositing,' both of which were awesome. As a kid, I mostly played sports, video games and outside. The desire to make things came later.

My favorite artists include Alphonse Mucha, David Hockney, Kiyoshi Yamashita and Andy Warhol. Currently, my favorite museums are the Cantor Arts Center and the Anderson Collection — right here at Stanford and only about one kilometer from the medical school! I also try to go to the Tate Modern when I’m in London.

Do you hope to include art somehow in your future medical practice?

I’m very much interested in learning more about what is referred to as the 'art of medicine,' and I hope to have the time to keep creating. At the moment, I’m most drawn to visually-based medical specialties, such as dermatology, pathology, radiology and nuclear medicine.

Previously: MeDesign Human Health Book: human anatomy diagrams with sleek new lookSuperheroes to the rescue: A creative approach to educating kids about asthma and Stanford alumnus writes children’s book to inspire next generation of curious minds
Illustration courtesy of Nick Love

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