The Importance of Medical Terminology

The Importance of Medical Terminology

Why should you learn Medical Terminology?

Different professions have different “languages”. An example of this is Information Technology (IT): IT professionals use terms such as “server”, “cloud”, “domain resolution” or “operating system” to describe objects or situations they encounter. Comparatively, in the medical field, different terms are used to describe the objects and situations encountered in the field, such as “amniocentesis”, “gastritis” or “cardiomyopathy”. The words – or terms- which make up the language of medicine are referred to as Medical Terminology.

Medical Terminology eases clinical proceedings and enables everyone involved in the process of treatment and care to perform more efficiently for the patient’s benefit. In the medical field, doctors quite often use different medical terms interchangeably, but depending on the situation and context the terms could have very different definitions. For example: abdomen/ stomach/ gut/ belly. But stomach is an organ inside of our body that is a part of Digestive System and it is positioned inside the abdominal cavity or abdomen. And what about the gut?  Is it an abdomen or a bowel – another organ? It depends on the context of what is said during the medical encounter.

Sometimes, familiar words do not have the same definitions in the medical field.  Think about “stool” and “evacuation”. And yes – we are not talking about chairs or emergency/ war situations.

Many people are convinced that “infection” and “inflammation” have the same meaning. Yet the meaning is very different for these 2 medical terms.

Transliteration of “angina” in many languages has definition “sore throat”, but not in English.

In Cardiology pulse, heart rate, and heart rhythm are used interchangeably all the time. But these very similar medical terms have very different meanings in Cardiology encounters.

Very often within the clinical environment medical terminology is composed of abbreviations. But familiar abbreviations could have a different meaning in medical language. AAA is not an insurance company, MI is not a state and TUNA is not a fish.

Once, I checked the short description of an upcoming appointment for one of the Russian-speaking patients in the Hospital database that said: “Russian patient, SOB, presented with symptoms of…” I was confused and shocked. SOB was a familiar abbreviation that I’ve heard multiple times before on the talk-shows, those were a big source of my learning of street/common English. And even though the patient was very unpleasant and often rude, I still could not believe that someone would use this abbreviation in the official Hospital database. So eventually I asked one of the physicians if there is a medical abbreviation “SOB”. And guess what? There is – shortness of breath.

If we would like to work in the health care field or simply become familiar with the basics of medical science – we have to know medical terminology. The importance of fluency in medical terminology cannot be overstated, which applies to all hospital personnel, including allied healthcare professionals and the patients as well. During medical encounters we would like to feel like an equal and knowledgeable medical team members and not uneducated outsiders.

Learning of the Medical Terminology and Body Systems is the one of the most important steps we should take in order to be successful in healthcare field.


Why should you take the class?

Many people nowadays have access to the Internet and software applications that are designed to help learn Medical Terminology. But just learning a list and memorizing unpronounceable terms is not sufficient: in order to learn and memorize we must reflect, become self-aware, and monitor our use of medical terminology.  We are adults and adults learn by DOING.

Without guided practice we usually do not master new skills.  Learning terms in context promotes retention.  No true understanding comes without the practice component.  Without structure and entertainment medical terminology becomes a chore.  We are all a mix of different learning styles, so we need a variety of teaching methods to learn well.

Even in pairs students often learn more from each other than an educator or trainer.  They correct and help each other.  They keep each other on task.  They share experiences, offer solutions to real-life problems, and make “dry” terminology interesting.  A variety of games, presentations, and quizzes introduce a little (lot!) fun to (otherwise) tiring theoretical learning.

The majority of terms are derived from Greek and Latin and in medical language systematic methodology goes together with science-based vocabulary.  The best way to learn medical terminology is to become familiar with the structure and the most commonly used word parts and apply your knowledge to different specific medical areas. Then it is possible to decipher the meaning of most any medical term and actively participate in a dynamic patient-provider encounter as a knowledgeable medical team member.

Needless to say, the 40-hour Medical Terminology and Body System class is only an invitation to the never-ending process of self-study, continuing education, research, field experience.


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