Does learning medical terminology feel like a tedious chore? Are you staying in on Fridays or Saturdays pouring over your medical dictionary just to find that you only remember five terms the next morning?
Whether you’re a medical student or studying to get a healthcare certificate, you simply cannot skip this part of your education. If you aspire to be a true professional you absolutely have to learn the language of medicine.
The truth is that learning medical terminology is not an impossible feat — most people simply have the wrong approach. The good news is that by honing the most effective memorization techniques and using proven resources, you can easily best your peers and turn learning into an effortless, even pleasant, task.
In this post, you’ll learn about:
- Using visual cues to remember complex terms
- Practicing terms using apps for iOS and Android
- Deciphering terms by learning basic Latin components (root, suffix, prefix)
- Bulk learning using self-made acronyms
- Using engaging guides and workbooks
- Taking free online classes
1. How to Memorize Medical Terms With Visuals
You will improve your learning curve immensely if you simply associate an image with each term. This will act as a cue when you are later trying to recall the medical term.
Our brains are hardwired to save most information as images. This is why when someone says the word “apple” a visual representation of the fruit immediately pops up in your head…. most people don’t visualize the letters spelling the word.
But if we take the word “subhepatic” (definition: situated under/on the ventral side of the liver), it would be really hard for your brain to assign a visual to that word. The trick here is to give your mind something simple and familiar which it can associate with the term, no matter how strange the path is.
Study Tips for Visual Memory and Learning
Let’s examine the word “ginglymoid” (definition: pertaining to or shaped like a hinged joint, such as a knee or elbow). Here’s a tutorial for memorizing this term from a popular memory improvement tips
Step 1. Choose a phrase that summarizes the definitions of “ginglymoid.” In this case, that can be simply “hinged joint.” Now you need to connect these two in your mind.
Step 2. Break the word phonetically into syllables. Forget about the spelling. Focus and listen to the sounds of the syllables. The word “ginglymoid” is pronounced “jing-lei-moyd”. Consider how it sounds to you. Say it out loud slowly.
Step 3. Figure out what real-life words sound like these syllables.
It sounds like “jingly mud”. (You should use the phrase that pops into your own mind.) For jingly mud, a memorable image could be jingle bells stuck in the mud. You’re trying to pull them out, but the mud is thick. Your elbows hurt trying to pull it out.
Try to clearly visualize a picture with these items in your mind. What’s the color of the ribbon? What type of metal are the bells made of? Visualize the brown, thick mud and sore elbows.
“Ginglymoid” visual cue
Memory Improvement Tips / / CC BY
The key here is to create an image that is silly, gigantic and unrealistic. The mind forgets the ordinary. It’s the unusual that gets remembered!
Step 5. Now when you read or hear the word “ginglymoid”, the sound of the syllables of that word will make you think of “jingly mud”. When you picture the image you just created, you’ll know that these terms mean “hinged joints.”
If you’ve pictured this image and engraved it deep in your visual memory, the sound will recall the crazy image of jingle bells stuck in the mud and sore elbows. Thus, you’ll be reminded that “ginglymoid” means a hinged joint such as the elbow.
2. Learning Medical Terminology: Games, Apps, and Tools for Your Phone
You don’t have to carry heavy books and flashcards all the time. There are a number of iOS and Android apps that can help you train your memory and explore different learning techniques on the go.
Here’s a list of some the best apps that can help you learn the medical language:
Flashcards for Medicine: This application simply illustrates so-called lists in medicine and short notes for complex topics. They include the most difficult sections to memorize in medicine.
MCAT Flashcards – Kaplan National Practice Test: You can create customized card sets choosing from 200 concepts in physics, general chemistry, biology, and organic chemistry.
Taber’s Medical Dictionary: Over 65,000 terms, 1,200 photos, 32,000 audio pronunciations, 100+ videos, and more than 600 patient-care statements.
Psych Terms: This medical dictionary is a pocket glossary for psychology, psychiatry and mental health. It contains a rich selection of 1000+ frequently used medical terms, phrases, and definitions that are concisely written for quick and easy review.
Medical Terminology and Abbreviations: Over 1000 abbreviations, prefixes, and suffixes to help you memorize and understand complex medical terminology.
Med Term Scramble: A free game that lets you test your knowledge of medical terms. Over 30 word lists to choose from. The app is also available for Android devices.
Eponyms (for students): A short description of more than 1,800 common and obscure medical eponyms.
Learn Medical Terminology: This app is dedicated to understanding the language of medicine. It contains lists of prefixes, roots, and suffixes and is ideal for exam revision. The app also offers interactive medical terminology exercises and e-learning courses.
Medical Terms EN: With this simple, powerful and free app you can reveal meanings of thousands of medical terms in the English language. Voice-enabled search with word prediction and smart options let you narrow search results to abbreviations.
Medical Terminologies: Medical Reference is an offline encyclopedia of medical terms right on your device. More than 40 thousand of thematic articles: definition medical terms, phrases, abbreviations, deciphered in English. This application allows you to quickly learn and understand complex medical terminology.
Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary: The first and last word in medicine for over 110 years! Thoroughly updated, this user-friendly reference, trusted for more than a century by healthcare personnel at every professional level, allows you to grasp the meanings of all medical terms in current usage.
Medical Terms: With this simple, powerful and free app you can reveal meanings of thousands of medical terms in English language. It contains a directory of most commonly used medical terms, diseases, tests and symptoms extended by external sources with tons of medical terminology.
Medical Terminology A-Z - Offline (Free): Medical Terms and Dictionary with common and uncommon words, terms, and phrases. Used by physicians, nurses, PAs, NPs, medical students, nursing students and more.
Anatomy Cards Anatomicus: Anatomy flashcards application is useful for medical students as well as anyone interested in human body anatomy and medicine. You can see and learn the locations of the parts of the human anatomy system which is illustrated in the diagrams.
Gray's Anatomy - Anatomy Atlas 2020: Gray's Anatomy is one of the Top Rated FREE applications that help you learn about human anatomy.
3. Learn Latin Roots: Create Your Own Medical Terminology Cheat Sheet
The basic components of each term are root word (the base of the term), prefixes (letter groups in front of the root word) and suffixes (at the end of the root word). If you break a word into its components you can easily decipher its meaning.
It is no secret that a lot of medical terms come from Latin or Greek. Most words are just too long and sound too alien to remember. Truth is, you don’t have to learn words one by one. In fact, most top teaching hospitals recommend that you don’t. You’ll be better off if you focus only on the common Latin or Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes instead.
When you know all the major building blocks of the medical language you can easily puzzle out the meaning of even the most complicated medical terms.
Example: Let’s look at the word “pericarditis” broken down into its components:
Medical terms can be formed using several combinations:
- root + suffix
- prefix + root
- prefix + root + suffix
Sometimes a word may contain more than one root. The term “bronchogenic
” has 2 roots: “bronch
” and “gen
”, with an added “o” to ease pronunciation, and “ic
” being the suffix at the end.
You can easily find lists of almost all medical roots, prefixes and suffixes and even various medical terminology cheat sheets. Just download them, keep them handy, and soon you’ll be on your way to deciphering any term that comes your way.
4. Bulk Learning Medical Terms: Create Your Own Acronyms
You can memorize a group of similar or related medical terms by creating acronyms. Just take one letter of each word and form a single new word or a phrase.
Creating acronyms yourself takes a little bit of imagination and creativity, but it’s extremely effective. To get started, just take your group of related words, look at their first letters and rearrange them to form something new that is easy to remember.
Example: Let’s say you want to memorize the causes of “erythema nodosum” (definition: inflammation of the fat under the skin). This condition is usually caused by drugs, infections, pregnancy, OCP, ulcerative colitis or tuberculosis.
We take the initial letter of each cause and see if we can create a meaningful word or phrase (in this case, we already did that). Then we get the acronym: DIP OUT
You can create your own lists of acronyms for various purposes: groups of diseases, treatments, body parts, etc. Then you’ll have your own, self-made medical terminology study guide, tailored to your specific learning needs.
Of course, there are some officially recognized acronyms that you should explore as well.
5. Guides and Workbooks to Help You Study Medical Terminology
As an alternative to heavy medical books and dictionaries, you can explore a number of guides that provide you with the same information but in an extremely easy-to-understand way.
There are a few books that have been heavily optimized with the clear goal of not only teaching you the medical terminology but also making sure you effectively memorize it.
Here are our top picks:
Medical Terminology for Dummies: This book will get you on track in no time, even if you’ve just started learning medicine. The language used is very engaging and even entertaining. The author was able to turn a serious field like medicine into something fun and interesting to read about.
Medical Terminology: A Living Language: You’ll be amazed how effective this book is at delivering huge amounts of information, without giving you a headache or boring you to death. Another characteristic of “Medical Terminology: A Living Language” is that it won’t bombard you with outdated terms or words that you’ll probably never use. All the information has been carefully selected and features the most common medical terms.
Quick Medical Terminology: A Self-Teaching Guide: As the authors have put it: “it provides the tools necessary for building and sustaining a large working repertoire of medical terms”. The book offers a number of exercises and real examples that will help you train and develop your memory.
Medical Terminology: The Best and Most Effective Way to Memorize, Pronounce and Understand Medical Terms: Let’s be very clear about this, if you want to feel proud of yourself and do a great job in the health care field, you need to learn and understand medical terminology! It is a fundamental part of the future of your career. This medical terminology book is a must-have study guide and workbook for students looking to broaden or refreshen their skills of understanding medical terms.
Medical Terminology Made Easy: Become Fluent in Medical Terminology with This Complete Breakdown. Explanations and Examples of Root words, Prefixes, Suffixes, and Much More!
6. Memorize Medical Terms Faster With Free Online Classes
You can take a medical terminology online course for free.
Even if you study in medical school or another type of healthcare training institute, you can still supplement your knowledge by taking additional courses and using the various online learning tools
Here are some of the best free online programs you’ll find:
“Understanding Medical Words” (supported by the National Library of Medicine): Apart from providing you with definitions and explanations regarding different terms, you’ll also learn the most common abbreviations. Words are broken down to their Greek and Latin roots and most examples come with nice visuals. The course can also be downloaded and viewed offline.
“Medical Terminology Course” (by Des Moines University): The course is divided into several sections with a quiz at the end of each lesson. Every lesson contains practical examples and additional information regarding the topic that is being examined. The language and tone used in the explanatory text are very light and easy to digest.
“Medical Terminology” (by SweetHaven Publishing Services): The lessons are presented in a flashcard format that gradually takes you through the different modules. This course is perfect for medical students, allied healthcare students, hospital practitioners, and other health workers. You can complete the training modules at your own pace and skip through some sections if you wish.
Start a Rewarding Allied Health Career
Finding a method to learn medical terms that works for you is essential for everyone pursuing a career in medicine or allied health.
Keep in mind that jobs in the allied healthcare field currently make up 60% of all healthcare positions and offer incredible employment opportunities over the coming decades. For those of you who’d like to start a career, check out the wide variety of allied health training and certification programs we can help you specialize in.