Exploring Anatomic Variants to Enhance Anatomy Teaching: Musculus Sternalis
The opportunity to encounter and appreciate the range of human variation in anatomic structures—and its potential impact on related structures, function, and treatment—is one of the chief benefits of cadaveric dissection for students in clinical preprofessional programs. The dissection lab is also where students can examine unusual anatomic variants that may not be included in their textbooks, lab manuals, or other course materials. For students specializing in physical medicine, awareness and understanding of muscle variants has a practical relevance to their preparations for clinical practice. In a routine dissection of the superficial chest muscles, graduate students in a human gross anatomy class exposed a large, well-developed sternalis muscle. The exposure of this muscle generated many student questions about M sternalis: its prevalence and appearance, its function, its development, and its evolutionary roots. Students used an inquiry protocol to guide their searches through relevant literature to gather this information. Instructors developed a decision tree to assist students in their inquiries, both by helping them to make analytic inferences and by highlighting areas of interest needing further investigation. Answering these questions enriches the understanding and promotes “habits of mind” for exploring musculoskeletal anatomy beyond simple descriptions of function and structure.