Are Anatomy PhDs Nearing Extinction or Adapting to Change? United States Graduate Education Trends in the Anatomical Sciences

Academic Article


  • Faculty qualified to teach in the anatomical sciences are growing scarce just as the need for trained anatomists is greater than ever. Enrollments are surging in anticipation of a large physician shortfall; meanwhile, many anatomists are reaching retirement age. Who will fill the teaching gap? This study assessed trends in doctorates awarded in Anatomy and related fields within the United States (US) since 1969 and evaluated modern graduate education in the anatomical sciences. Data were compiled from the National Science Foundation Survey of Earned Doctorates. The total number of doctorates in the anatomical sciences and number of doctorates by sex and race/ethnicity were plotted for trend analysis. The number of PhD anatomy training programs within US medical schools was also assessed. Curricula and major characteristics of all active programs were evaluated through website searches and program director interviews. While doctorates in cell biology, developmental biology, and neuroscience have grown, the number of PhDs awarded in Anatomy has declined, on average, by 3.1 graduates per year to a 50-year low of only 8 graduates in 2017. Currently, 21 active doctoral programs in anatomy operate within US medical schools and fall into three general categories: anatomy education (n = 8), classic anatomy (n = 8), and anthropology/evolutionary anatomy (n = 5). Without a concerted effort by stakeholders to address the shortage, anatomists may face extinction. Expansion of the anatomy education doctoral degree may represent a necessary evolution of the field to meet job market needs and to thwart the extinction threat.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Wilson AB; Kaza N; Singpurwalla DJ; Brooks WS
  • Start Page

  • 432
  • End Page

  • 439
  • Volume

  • 14
  • Issue

  • 4