Journal of Surgical Simulation 2022; 9: 49 - 56

Published: 23 May 2022


Original article

Utilizing a 3D printed model of the mediastinum to teach thoracic anatomy and its visual-spatial relationships to medical trainees

Deven C. Patel, Ingrid Schmiederer, Tiffany Anderson, Prasha Bhandari, Kyle Gifford, Dana Lin, H. Henry Guo and Natalie S. Lui
Corresponding author: Natalie S. Lui, 300 Pasteur Drive, Falk Cardiovascular Research Institute, Stanford, CA 94305, USA. Email:


Background: Three-dimensional (3D) printed anatomic models are increasingly being developed for medical education, however, their efficacy as a study tool is unclear, particularly in the context of thoracic anatomy.

Methods: Premedical and medical students were randomly assigned to either a lecture using a standard anatomy textbook or the same lecture along with a 3D printed model of the mediastinum. Participants took a timed pre-test and post-test, identifying 12 mediastinal structures on a prosected human cadaver. Independent and dependent t tests were used to compare individual and group improvements, respectively. A subjective assessment was also performed.

Results: A total of ten medical trainees participated, five in the textbook cohort and five in the 3D model cohort. Overall, there was a significant improvement in test scores from the pre-test to the post-test (4.4 to 6.8, P < 0.01), and within both the  textbook cohort (3.7 to 5.9, P < 0.01) and the 3D model cohort (5.0 to 7.6, P < 0.01). There was no difference in time to test completion overall or within the two cohorts. There were greater improvements in the 3D model cohort compared with the textbook cohort in terms of test scores (2.2 vs. 2.6, P = 0.53) and time to test completion (-0.8 vs. -1.6 min, P = 0.54), however, these differences were not statistically significant. Subjectively, all five of the trainees using the 3D model acknowledged a perceived benefit in their mediastinal anatomy education. Positive feedback from trainees in both cohorts included the visual-spatial relationships and haptics afforded by the model that standardized textbooks failed to provide, as well as general excitement in using an innovative 3D model to learn human anatomy.

Conclusions: The 3D printed model of the mediastinum did not demonstrate a quantitative improvement in identifying anatomic structures on a cadaver compared with standard textbook education in a small cohort of medical trainees. However, there was strong perceived benefit and enjoyment in the use of the 3D model.


3D printing; mediastinum; medical education; anatomy; cadaver; visual-spatial