“I am on a mission to see that anatomy is better valued in modern medical curricula.” – Dr. Susan Standring
Susan Standring, PhD, DSc is Emeritus Professor of Anatomy at King’s College London and Anatomy Development Tutor at the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCSEng). As a neuroscientist, she worked on the biology of repair in the peripheral nervous system and is a past president of the Peripheral Nerve Society. As an anatomist, she has taught medical and dental students and surgical trainees for 40 years and has championed anatomy as a fundamental component of medical and dental curricula throughout her career. Dr. Standring is the past president of the Anatomical Society and is the current editor-in-chief of Gray’s Anatomy, now in its 41st edition. She is a Trustee of the Hunterian Collection at the Royal College of Surgeons of England and was formerly a Trustee of the Damiliola Taylor Trust and of Changing Faces.
Dr. Standring is a Fellow of King’s College London and an Honorary Fellow of RCSEng. She was awarded the prestigious Wood Jones Medal of RCSEng for her outstanding contribution to anatomy teaching in 2013.
Anatomy remains one of the fundamental subjects in medicine. A knowledge of clinical anatomy underpins the safe and effective examination of patients, the interpretation of clinical images and the performance of many clinical procedures. Not knowing the appropriate place to put a needle or to make an incision can lead to unwanted iatrogenic injuries, which are injuries caused by the clinician. Advances in medical technology, particularly involving computerized procedures, have been associated with a renaissance of interest in clinical anatomy: for example in planning new approaches to previously inaccessible sites like the foramina in the skull base.
I’ve always been interested in structure and function. My first love was zoology and I thought at one time of being a marine biologist. At medical school I was invited to take a bachelors degree in anatomy during my course, and then to study for a PhD in anatomy with Peter Williams. So I stepped sideways from medicine and became an electron microscopist, beginning a life-long love affair with Schwann cells and their reaction of injury. But you have to make a living as well: I was offered a post as a junior lecturer in the anatomy department at Guy’s Hospital Medical School, which meant that I had to learn more anatomy! Over the years I became fascinated by the applied anatomy of the head and neck, perhaps influenced by the fact that my husband was dentist. Now that I work mainly with surgeons and surgical trainees, I am painfully aware that many trainees leave their medical schools with a barely adequate knowledge of anatomy and so I am on a mission to see that anatomy is better valued in modern medical curricula.
My PhD supervisor was Peter Williams, who became one of the editors of Gray’s Anatomy with Roger Warwick. When Peter and Roger were editing the 35th edition of Gray’s, I made the suggestion that Gray’s needed a bibliography. To my amazement, they agreed – so I became involved with Gray’s Anatomy as its first bibliographer, spending most of my free time trying to piece together references from some pretty unhelpful sources (remember this was long before electronic referencing). For the next two editions, I helped in preparing the peripheral nerve section.
Things all went quiet for quite a long time after the publication of the 38th edition. Then, one morning Richard Furn came to see me to ask what I thought about the book. Casting caution to the wind, I told him that I felt it needed some serious editing. I assumed that I wouldn’t hear anymore about it, but Richard returned a few months later and asked me to consider taking on the task of preparing the 39th edition. So that’s how I got involved.
I’m interested in what we can learn from the images that are now available. For example, take the brain, a region that doesn’t give up its secrets easily, indeed it was “invisible” in standard Xrays of the head when I was a student. We can now bring such powerful investigative techniques to bear in looking at the brain and its functional connections – this has to be one of the most important endeavors ever. Combining new technologies and new surgical techniques is producing very exciting advances – I believe that we can help by flagging up the relevant anatomy in Gray’s Anatomy.
I have two favorite bones, both in the skull—one is the sphenoid and the other is the ethmoid, a very delicate little bone that articulates with the sphenoid. They’re both difficult to envisage inside an articulated skull. Students normally look only at articulated skulls, and not surprisingly have problems trying to work out what these bones are doing. Showing them the disarticulated bones really helps students to understand a very complex three-dimensional arrangement and “watching the penny drop” is great fun for me as a teacher.