Anatomic Body Painting as a Teaching Tool in Physician
Cynthia C. Bennett
International Association of Medical Science Educators 2018
Background Anatomic body painting (ABP) is a teaching tool utilized in many countries but not well known in the USA.
Minimal research exists on ABP’s efficacy as a teaching tool. The high cost of anatomy labs, limited cadaver availability, and
short timeline of physician assistant (PA) curricula make ABP an attractive resource for PA programs. Elon University has used
ABP as an adjunct teaching tool in its PA anatomy curriculum since matriculation of its first class in 2013.
Purpose This paper describes how and why ABP was incorporated into Elon’s PA anatomy curriculum, details adaptations made
for incorporation into an American anatomy curriculum and offers an assessment of student acceptability of ABP as a teaching
method at a US Physician Assistant program.
Methods Literature search was performed assessing use of ABP at other programs. A survey comparing student perceptions of
ABP to cadaveric dissection was completed by participants in two (n =29;n =32)ABPsessions.
Results KeyfeaturesofElon’s ABP method and rationale for their inclusion are described. Cost for starting Elon’s ABP program
was approximately $421.00. Student perceptions of ABP compared favorably to cadaveric dissection in perceived effectiveness,
acceptance, and usefulness in understanding clinical correlations. Data suggest that ABP may make participants less uncomfort-
able physically and/or psychologically than cadaveric dissection.
Conclusion ABP is an affordable adjunct to anatomy instruction that is well accepted by students and assists in understanding
clinical concepts/correlations. The study is limited by small size and inclusion of one study center; further study is warranted.
Keywords Anatomic body painting
Anatomic body painting, or ABP, first appeared in the medical
literature in 2002 . After observing Bthe wide range of uses
of bodypaint (sic) in the dramatic arts and glossy magazines,^
the authors of this first study were inspired to use body paint
techniques in their medical curriculum with the primary goal
of teaching anatomy content, particularly as it correlates to
physical exam findings. The authors also discuss their second-
ary motivation Bto assist the students to overcome their natural
reticence about professional physical contact in an early phase
of their medical training.^ The descriptive study found that
ABP was an easy skill to employ and that it both reinforced
anatomic spatial relationships and increased student comfort
with professional physical contact. While many differences
exist between medical education in The Netherlands and the
USA (most notable in this case is the acceptability of partial
nudity during curricular instruction), the study’sfindingsare
persuasive that such a technique might be quite helpful in a
US medical curriculum.
More accounts of the use of ABP followed over the next
10 years in Australia and Great Britain [2–4]. These studies
found body painting to be a well-accepted technique that stu-
dents perceive as fun, helpful in learning anatomical relation-
ships, and illustrative of humanistic issues related to patient
care (e.g., body image) [2, 3]. Notably, however, no articles
Portions of this data were previously presented as a research brief at the
2014 Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) Forum
(Philadelphia, PA), and as a poster presentation at the 2016 American
Association of Anatomists (AAA) Regional Meeting, New York, NY.
* Cynthia C. Bennett
Department of Physician Assistant Studies, Elon University, 2087
Campus Box, Elon, NC 27244, USA
Medical Science Educator