Sweet anatomy: how a medical student is using confectionery to make learning anatomy fun
In a sweet shop you see strawberry laces, candy hearts, and foam bananas. But when I’m in a sweet shop I see capillaries, myocardium, and the beginnings of a pancreas and I start searching for some blue raspberry laces so I can finally incorporate deoxygenated blood vessels. Don’t worry, it’s me that’s the weird one, but let me explain a bit about my strange hobby.
My name is Mike McCormick. I’m a first year medical student at the University of Glasgow and a physiology graduate from the University of Edinburgh. My project Candy Anatomy started in September 2014, during the first few weeks of medical school, and since then it has spiralled out of control.
Having taken a few years away from academia, I decided to surround myself with everything medical to absorb as much anatomy content as I could. It all began when I was in a restaurant in Glasgow’s west end. I’m not the most mature student out there, and while waiting for my food I had no reservations about asking the waitress if I could have something to colour in, much to the embarrassment of my friend. My choices were a picture of an ice cream sundae or a highly stacked burger. I asked for both. Within minutes, I went off piste with my crayons, producing an annotated glenohumeral joint and L1-L5 lumbar vertebrae out of the two pictures given to me.
Soon after, I expanded my efforts by labelling all the bones on my wrist and then the muscles, nerves, and blood supply on my arm using a felt tip pen. Things began to click when I realised that fried egg sweets were the ultimate cellular candy. Combined with some delicate use of “hundreds and thousands” my first Candy Anatomy was born: “eggstra-cellular signalling.” Pretty rudimentary, but it inspired me to develop more and more intricate pictures.
The first semester at Glasgow University was great inspiration for my burgeoning hobby because each weekly anatomy topic provided me with a new confectionery challenge. As my work progressed it became apparent that a lot of my fellow students were becoming increasingly interested, to the point where the images were being used as revision tools. By the end of the semester I even used two of the pictures in an exam essay.
In response to the increased attention I created dedicated Instagram (candyanatomy) and Twitter (@candyanatomy) accounts. Starting with students from Glasgow University, it soon gained an international following with online and magazine articles being published about my creations. The interest in my bizarre learning tool has further motivated me to create more elaborate and varied pieces. The goal is always to produce an accurate way to teach a topic that is easy on the eyes and the palate. Many people have already said to me that their revision would have been much easier had my work been available in their student days. For me, recalling what candy I chose to make an illustration helps me recall the structure of many systems.
My most recent, Cherry Pia, was developed when I saw the potential for cherry pie to be both an ideal spinal cord substitute and obvious pun. 1 Cherry Pia is quite a mouthful, but if my ridiculousness results in people taking a longer look at anatomy and science in general then it will all have been worthwhile. All that remains is to dismantle the project and return the candy to storage. No, I don’t eat it. You have no idea how stale this candy is getting.
The future for Candy Anatomy will no doubt move into increasingly detailed microstructure and pathology. Please follow my Instagram and Twitter accounts, feel free to request diagram suggestions via direct message, and look out for a published book in the summer of 2015.Mike McCormick, first year medical student
1University of Glasgow, UK
Correspondence to: 2117947M@student.gla.ac.uk
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2015;23:h2139