Ph.D. Anatomy Degree

Earn your Ph.D. from the Center for Anatomical Science and Education (CASE) at Saint Louis University.

SLU’s doctoral degree typically takes five years to complete. You can apply for competitive teaching assistantships for clinical anatomy and neuroscience courses and pre-doctoral fellowships.

The CASE doctoral program offers you the opportunity for meaningful interactions and networking with medical school, allied health professional, and graduate school students and faculty

The doctoral degree in anatomy provides training in clinical human anatomy and independent research for individuals seeking a career in teaching and research at the medical school or university level. Research of biological structure and function focused on clinically relevant topics or neurobiology. A total of 48 credit hours (36 credit hours of course work and 12 credit hours of dissertation research) is required for graduation.

The Center's faculty are engaged in multidisciplinary research of biological structure and function ranging from ultrastructural to gross anatomical levels, with major interest in preclinical biomedical pain research. Facilities are available for autoradiography, cell culture, electrophysiology, immunocytochemistry, microsurgery, and stereotaxic neurosurgery. The Center is equipped to perform optical imaging, including bright field, phase contrast, and fluorescent microscopy. Electron microscopy is available for transmission and scanning. 


PhD students take the following core courses:

Human Histology and Ultrastructure ANAT-510 (5 credit hours) Fall Semester
Microscopic anatomy of human body; emphasis on relationships between structure and function of tissues and organs.

Human Embryology ANAT-520 (2 credit hours) Fall Semester
Prenatal human development; emphasis on correlation of normal development with development of common congenital malformations.

Human Systems Physiology ANAT-540 (4 credit hours) Fall Semester
Physiology principles and mechanisms lectures will emphasize and correlate function with structure of cells, tissues and organ systems

Human Gross Anatomy ANAT-500 (8 credit hours) Spring Semester
Structure and function of human body; emphasis on anatomical relationships and concepts and their functional significance; dissection required.

Human Systems Neurobiology ANAT-530 (5 credit hours) Spring Semester
Structure and function of the human nervous system; emphasis on neuroanatomical relationships of functional systems and neurobiological concepts of brain mechanisms.

PhD students attend and participate in all Anatomy Seminar and Journal Club presentations and attend all MS non thesis, MS thesis and PhD dissertation defenses.

Additional courses include:

Basis Research Techniques ANAT-544 (2 credit hours) Fall Semester
Fundamental techniques and instrumentation; emphasis on principles underlying preparation of material for histological, histochemical and ultrastructural examination and interpretation of results.

Ethics for Research Scientists BBSG-510 (0 credit hours) Fall Semester
The course is a requirement for all pre- and postdoctoral fellows. It consists of eight 2 hour sessions given in the first half of the spring semester. For all but the first sessions, a lecture to the whole class lasting 30 to 50 minutes will be followed by small group discussions which will involve case presentations.

Principles of Biostatistics BST-500 (3 credit hours) Spring or Summer Semesters

Dissertation Research ANAT-699 (0-12 credit hours) Fall, Spring, or Summer Semesters
Student will propose and complete a research project under the guidance of a faculty member.

Anatomy Seminar ANAT-689 (0 Credit Hours) Fall, Spring, or Summer Semesters

Journal Club ANAT-691 (0 Credit Hours) Fall, Spring, or Summer Semesters

Special Studies for Exams ANAT-695 (Credit hours 0) To be taken the semester of anticipated graduation

Advanced Systems Neurobiology ANAT-630 (1 credit hour) Spring Semester
This course may be taken concurrently with the Human Systems Neurobiology course. Lectures and moderated discussions of assigned journal articles will consider in greater detail the topics presented in the Human Systems Neurobiology course.

Developmental Neurobiology ANAT-632 (2 credit hours) Offered occasionally
Prerequisites: ANAT-530 and ANAT-630. A presentation of the principles and concepts that underlie the development of the nervous system. Lectures and discussions of assigned journal articles will cover neurogenesis, neuronal differentiation, the formation of functional neural circuit and regressive phenomena during brain development.

Visual Neuroscience ANAT-667 (2 credit hours) Spring Semester
Prerequisites: ANAT-530. Overview of visual processing, from chemical mechanism of transduction by retinal photoreceptors to anatomical and physiological correlates of visual perception in cerebral cortex. Assigned readings on analysis of receptive field properties, mechanisms of dark and light adaptation, sensation of color and control of ocular reflexes. Human visual dysfunctions included.

Other elective courses as appropriate for interest of student.

A total of 48 hours (36 credit hours coursework, 12 hours dissertation research) is required for graduation.

Qualifying Examination and Defense
Upon completion of the core curriculum, Basic Research Techniques in Anatomy and Principles of Biostatistics, the student must prepare for and successfully pass the doctoral qualifying examination. 

Doctoral Qualifying Examination
The qualifying exam is a written examination that will be designed to test the student’s fundamental knowledge of human structure and function, critical analysis and thinking, and design of an independent research proposal. An ad hoc exam committee will be constituted by the Director of the Anatomy Graduate Programs and include five members of the graduate faculty, four of which shall be anatomists. The Program Director or Associate Director shall chair the committee. The written test shall occur over a five day period (excluding weekends). The committee shall request the faculty to submit questions on: 1) material covered in any of the course work completed by the student to date, 2) research papers or reviews that will be provided to the student, and/or 3) philosophical matters related to the history of anatomy and medicine or national or world events that impact medical education and biomedical research. The committee will review the submitted questions and questions will be selected or created by the committee to ensure the questions are fair and appropriate, that they test the student’s knowledge base for areas of anatomy (gross anatomy, neuroanatomy, histology, and embryology), and that they help evaluate the problem solving skills of the student. Failing the qualifying exam will result in the student being recommended to being dropped from the PhD program. In this case the Director of the Anatomy Graduate Program can elect to offer the failed student the option of completing a terminal Master’s degree.

Once the student has passed the doctoral qualifying examination the student must register for Dissertation Research. A minimum of 12 hours is required for degree completion and typically occurs over 2 – 3 academic years. Initially, the student must identify a research project under the guidance of a faculty member. A PhD dissertation committee will then be formed as the student prepares their research proposal ( A three member PhD dissertation committee, chaired by the student’s primary advisor, will be appointed by the Director of the Anatomy Graduate Program. The committee must include at least two members of the Anatomy graduate faculty. A third member of the committee can be appointed by the Graduate Program Director if they are graduate faculty in other SLU departments or at another University. It is the decision of the Anatomy Graduate Program Director to accept the advisor’s recommendation and to identify the final member of the committee. Once the proposal has been approved by the PhD dissertation committee it is then submitted to the Graduate Education Office. 

Doctoral Oral Qualifying Examination 
The oral qualifying exam will be scheduled after the student has submitted a detailed dissertation research proposal, conducted preliminary experiments to substantiate the proposal and the dissertation advisory committee formed. The committee will consist of five members of the Graduate Faculty and will be approved by Program Director. The oral exam will be public and designed to test the student’s fundamental knowledge of their proposed studies, background for the studies, and critical analysis and thinking.

Prior to the doctoral student’s request for consideration for advancement to candidacy, submission of their research proposal and the formation of their research committee, and initiation of the major components of their proposed doctoral research project and finally registration for any research hours, the student must have completed most of their required core or elective course work and successfully passed their Preliminary/Written Qualifying Exam.

Advancement to Candidacy
Completion of the dissertation research project follows: writing of the thesis, application for advancement to candidacy and the dissertation defense. It shall be the responsibility of the student to initiate their candidacy by filling out a candidacy form through Graduate Education at SLU The completed form must be returned by the deadline stated in the Graduate Education Calendar of Deadlines. Once the completed candidacy form has been processed by Graduate Studies, the thesis committee chair will receive ballots for the oral defense of the thesis. The ballots are distributed to the other committee members by the thesis committee chair when they vote on the oral defense. Once the ballots are completed, signed and sealed it is the committee chairperson's responsibility to deliver the ballots to the Graduate Education Office immediately following the defense.

Dissertation Defense
The defense of the dissertation provides an opportunity for the student to formally present their findings to their committee, the faculty and students in CASE, and to any family member or anyone from the general public wishing to attend. Two weeks before the dissertation defense an electronic and print announcement of the date, time, location, and title of the defense will be publicized to all members of CASE. At least 7 working days prior to the defense, a final draft of the student’s dissertation must be placed in the Anatomy Conference Room for faculty and students to review. The dissertation defense is two parts. First the student will make an oral, PowerPoint presentation of no longer than 45 minutes duration where they present their research. Following the presentation, questions from the collective audience will be encouraged. Once all questions have been satisfactorily answered by the student, the audience is excused and the closed, or executive, part of the defense takes places with only the student and their committee present. The dissertation committee can asked detailed questions and expect the student to demonstrate thorough knowledge of their project and related research. Questions on general topics in Anatomy, unrelated to their research, may also be asked. Following all questioning, the student is excused from the room and the committee members, without discussion, complete the defense ballot.


A limited number of fellowships are available to support doctoral studies in Anatomy. Doctoral fellows will be expected to participate with CASE faculty in the education of medical, professional, and graduate students working in both our teaching laboratories and classrooms. Acceptance into the doctoral program does not guarantee the awarding of a fellowship or any other financial assistance. Consideration for a Doctoral Fellowship will be based on the qualifications of the candidate and the selection of the fellowship award recipient will be made solely by the Anatomy Graduate Program Director.

Application deadline for Fall admission is March 1.

Students are usually admitted in the beginning of the fall semester. Application requirements include official transcripts, official scores on the Graduate Record Examination, three letters of recommendation, a resume/cv and a goals statement. Materials should be uploaded as part of your online application.

Inquiries about the program can be made to