Introduction: Anatomy is an essential basic science for safe and effective medical practice. In 2006 the UK Anatomy Act was changed to allow the use of surgical procedures on cadavers. This has unlocked opportunities for new methods of teaching clinically relevant anatomy. This study explores how surgical procedures may provide a purposeful and memorable way for undergraduates to learn anatomy, compared with conventional teaching methods. Methods: Under supervision, a group of third-year medical students prepared for and then performed a shoulder hemi-arthroplasty after identifying key anatomical structures and surgical objectives. The procedure was performed in a simulated theatre environment. A focus group was used to collect qualitative data based on the learning experience. Results: The surgical approach and implant insertion were successfully completed, and the educational objectives of identifying and learning surrounding structures were met. The focus group found that the exercise presented a relaxed introduction to surgery, enabled learning by association, and provided a learning experience that was both purposeful and complete. Discussion: The preparation and completion of the procedure enabled the students to focus on the anatomy of the shoulder, by identifying and forming associations with surrounding structures. Uniquely, the surgical nature of this project also allowed undergraduate students to practice key surgical skills and principles. Conclusion: The authors believe that learning anatomy via a surgical approach provides a relevant, in-depth, purposeful and enjoyable learning experience. This technique also provided a valuable insight into surgery.