Are you interested in a career as a healthcare professional? Does the thought of having to learn medical terminology concern you? Fear not, help is on the way.

If you work in healthcare, learning medical terminology is essential for your success. Medical terms are universal to the healthcare system. It matters not whether you are a doctor, nurse, or medical student.

Likewise, medical transcriptionists, billers, coders, researchers, and more must all learn the language of medicine.

A variety of ways to learn medical terminology are available these days. But here's the thing, learning doesn't have to be a nightmare. Indeed with a little bit of effort and a few inexpensive tools, you can be talking like a medical expert in no time.

Why Medical Terminology Is Important

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First things first. Let's start by discussing why learning medical terminology is so important.

Standardized Communication

Effective communication is critical when working in a fast-paced, high-risk field such as healthcare. Medical terminology creates a standardized form of communication or language. This helps medical professionals share details regarding a condition, medication, or procedure.

Additionally, this common language benefits all workers in the healthcare industry, not just doctors and nurses.

Medical assistants, billers, and coders must all know medical terms to perform their duties. For example, medical assistants need to be able to read charts. Plus, it is impossible for medical providers to submit bills without understanding patient charts.

Most important, standardized communication helps provide answers to the following questions:

  • Why is the patient in the hospital?
  • What treatment is recommended for the patient?
  • What else does the patient need?

Effective Documentation

Paperwork is a part of every job. However, effective documentation is particularly vital in healthcare. Furthermore, paperwork is a part of every staff member's role.

For instance, medical terms help doctors and nurses to quickly and effectively share information when documenting a patient's treatment.

Above all, documentation helps establish routines and provides three critical elements for staff and patients.

  1. Documentation establishes the continuity of a patient's care.
  2. It safeguards medical providers from malpractice claims.
  3. It provides necessary communication between rotating nurses, doctors, and other staff.

Improved Patient Safety

Effective communication between members of a healthcare team reduces the incidence of mistakes. Furthermore, that improves patient safety.

For example, doctors need to know a patient's full medical history. Furthermore, accurate paperwork helps that doctor prescribe a safe and effective treatment.

On the other hand, if someone uses the wrong medical term when charting a patient's history, the quality of care the patient receives can be compromised.

At this point, you may be wondering: "How do I get started?"

Tools For Learning Medical Terminology

A variety of practical tools are available to help you learn medical terminology. We have divided them into three areas:

1. Picture This!

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You can significantly improve your ability to learn medical terminology quickly by associating an image with each term.

One way our brain saves information is through the use of images. Take the example of a banana. When someone asks you for a banana, a visual image of the fruit appears in your mind. You don't visualize the individual letters of the word.

Similarly, using flashcards, coloring books, and other visual guides are a great way to help you learn medical terminology. When you see a medical term, your brain visualizes the images associated with the visual learning tools you selected.

"How do I get started?"

We selected several tools from Amazon that received outstanding customer reviews to get you started.

Stedman's Medical Terminology Flashcards

Stedman's Medical Terminology Flashcards contains 800 flashcards made up of prefixes, suffixes, and root words. Full-color illustrations appear on the front side of each card with the definition on the back. Additionally, a companion website includes an audio pronunciation glossary, a question bank, and matching exercises.

Mosby's Medical Terminology Flashcards

Mosby's Medical Terminology Flashcards include over 560 color images to help medical terminology come to life. As a consequence, learning is increased.

Designed to help you learn prefixes and suffixes, Mosby's flashcards help you master terms in a multitude of fun ways.

For example, an accompanying booklet includes an indexed list of the cards along with suggestions for study.

Kaplan Medical's Anatomy Flashcards

Kaplan Medical's Anatomy flashcards includes 300 full-color illustrations with descriptions on the back of each card. Additionally, the cards include color-coded tabs for easy review.

The Anatomy Coloring Book

The Anatomy Coloring Book is a useful tool for anyone interested in learning terms associated with anatomy. Also, this book is organized according to body systems to make learning easier.

Not only that, this book includes a color-key system linking vocabulary to detailed illustrations. In this way, you create visual associations with medical terminology while learning.

Quick Study Medical Terminology Reference Guide

This six-page quick study guide covers basic medical terminology. You can purchase a laminated copy to toss in your backpack or purse. Additionally, you can download a digital version to read with the free Kindle app (available on iOS, Android, PC & Mac) and on Fire tablets.

So, what do you think so far? How about we move on to the next step?

2. Learning On The Go

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Smartphones offer a great alternative to lugging around heavy books and large sets of flashcards. Furthermore, a number of apps are available to help you learn medical terminology on the go.

Below are some popular apps to help you start learning medical terms today.

Medical Dictionary By Farlex

The Medical Dictionary by Farlex includes over 180,000 medical terminology definitions. Also, it includes more than 12,000 images from trusted sources. Whether you are a medical student or healthcare professional, this app will help you learn medical terms.

Available for: AndroidiOS

Taber's Medical Dictionary

Taber's Medical Dictionary contains over 65,000 definitions, 1,200 photos, and more than 100 videos. First published in 1940, Taber's has been used by healthcare professionals and students worldwide.

Also, purchase includes access to the full dictionary, illustrations, pronunciations, and more at Taber's website.

Available for: AndroidiOS

Eponyms (For Students)

Eponyms is a fun app providing short descriptions of more than 1,700 medical eponyms.

An eponym is a person from whom a discovery, disease, or place is named. For example, Hodgkin's lymphoma was named after British pathologist Thomas Hodgkin, Hodgkin discovered and described this type of cancer while working at a London hospital in 1832.

Available for: AndroidiOS

Ready to move on the final set of tools?

3. DIY

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Whether you are a medical student or healthcare professional, self-teaching guides are a great way to help you learn.

We selected our list by researching the top-selling self-teaching guides. Additionally, we considered the features of each guide, the price, and reviews.

Medical Terminology: The Best And Most Effective Way To Memorize, Pronounce And Understand Medical Terms.

The full title for this guide, now in its second edition, is quite a mouthful but it pretty much explains exactly what you're getting.

This self-teaching guide focuses on the basic building blocks of medical terminology: prefixes, suffixes, and root words. Additionally, it includes multiple choice questions at the end of each chapter.

Also, these questions help you practice and test what you learned in previous chapters.

The Language Of Medicine

Now in its 11th edition, "The Language of Medicine" offers an easy-to-understand approach to learning medical terminology.

Summing up, this guide uses practical exercises and case studies to help make learning more enjoyable. Additionally, purchase includes access to interactive activities, games, quizzes, and flashcards on the companion Evolve website.

Quick Medical Terminology

This 336-page self-teaching guide provides easy to use tools to help you understand the logic behind common medical terminology.

"Quick Medical Terminology" features review exercises, self-tests, more than 250 new terms, and up-to-date examples. Consequently, learning is fun, fast, and easy.

Medical Terminology For Health Professions

Now in its eighth edition, this classic resource simplifies the process of memorizing medical terminology. It accomplishes this by focusing on common prefixes, suffixes, and root words.

This medical terminology guide is available as an eTextbook or spiral-bound. Furthermore, this guide is organized by body systems an includes a table of abbreviations at the end of each chapter.

Mosby's Dictionary Of Medicine, Nursing & Health Professions

"Mosby's Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Health Professions" is more than just a bestselling dictionary. Above all, it is a one-stop reference to help you make sense of the confusing world of medical terminology.

Firstly, it features over 56,00 definitions, 45 appendixes, and a color atlas of the human body. Secondly, it includes more than 2,450 full-color photographs and line drawings.

Thirdly, purchase offers quick access to useful reference information using the accompanying Evolve website.

Ready to start learning medical terminology now?

The Building Blocks Of Medical Terminology

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Prefixes, suffixes, and root words are the building blocks of medical terminology. Once you learn these terms, you can quickly begin piecing them together in your mind to figure out the meaning of even the most complicated medical words.

To begin, there are a variety of ways to form medical terms using these building blocks:

  • Firstly, prefix + root
  • Secondly, root + suffix
  • Thirdly, prefix + root + suffix

Additionally, some medical terms have more than one root word. In some instances, a term can contain only root words. For example, a sternocleidomastoid is a muscle that is attached at the sternum, the clavicle, and the mastoid bones.

The term's roots are: stern (sternum) + cleid (clavicle) + mastoid (mastoid). The vowel -- o -- has been added to link the words and to make the term easier to pronounce. Also, other vowels used for this purpose are a and i.

You can find comprehensive lists of prefixes, suffixes, root words online, and several of our guides, listed above, include them as well.

Ready for some examples?


  • Ab = away from
  • Ante = before, in front of
  • Anti = opposing, against
  • Bi = twice, double
  • Brachy = short, little
  • Cata = down, under
  • De = away from
  • Endo = inside, within
  • Hyper = above, beyond
  • Infra = below, beneath
  • Inter = between
  • Intra = within, inside
  • Intro = into, within
  • Macro = large
  • Micro = tiny, small
  • Peri = surrounding, around
  • Retro = behind, backward
  • Semi = half
  • Trans = through, across
  • Ultra = excessive, beyond

Are you ready to learn some root word endings?


  • -ac = related to, pertaining to
  • -acusis = hearing
  • -ate = subject to, use
  • -ectomy = to cut out, remove
  • -ent = person, agent
  • -genic = produced by
  • -gram = a written record
  • -graph = instrument used to record
  • -graphy = process of recording
  • -ism = condition, theory
  • -itis = inflammation
  • -ologist = one who studies, a specialist
  • -ology = study of, process of study
  • -oma = tumor
  • -osis = abnormal condition
  • -otomy = to cut into
  • -pathy = disease, disease process
  • -phobia = morbid fear of, intolerance
  • -scope = instrument used to visually examine
  • -scopy = process of visual examination

Time for some root words, the most important building blocks.

Root Words

  • Abdomin/o = abdomen
  • Aden/o = gland
  • Anter/o = front
  • Arteri/o = artery
  • Audi/o = hearing
  • Bio = life
  • Brachi/o = arm
  • Carcin/o = cancer
  • Cardi/o = heart
  • Col/o = colon
  • Cyt/o = cell
  • Derm/a = skin
  • Dors/i = back or posterior
  • Encephal/o = brain
  • Gastr/o = stomach
  • Hemat/o = blood
  • Hist/o = tissue
  • Intestin/o = intestine
  • Lapar/o = abdomen, loin or flank
  • Lymph/o = lymph vessels
  • My/o = muscle
  • Neur/o = nerve
  • Ocul/o = eye
  • Or/o = mouth
  • Ot/o = ear
  • Path/o = disease
  • Pharmac/o = drug
  • Pulmon/o = lungs
  • Sept/o = infection
  • Thorac/o = chest/thorax
  • Thyr/o = thyroid gland
  • Viscer/o = viscera (internal organs)

You may be wondering: How do I put this into practice?

Putting It All Together

Let's begin with cardi/o, which means heart.

Firstly, let's look at three examples using prefix changes:

  1. Myocarditis = muscle layer of heart inflamed and refers to an inflammation of the heart muscle
  2. Pericarditis = outer layer of heart inflamed and refers to an inflammation of the membrane enclosing the heart
  3. Endocarditis = inner layer of heart inflamed and refers to an inflammation of the membrane lining the inside of the heart chambers

Secondly, let's take a look at three examples using suffix changes:

  1. Cardiologist = a physician specializing in the heart
  2. Cardiomyopathy = damage to a heart muscle layer
  3. Cardiomegaly = enlargement of the heart

Are you ready to start learning some medical terms?

Essential Medical Terminology

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We can move onto some standard medical terms used in healthcare now that word formation makes sense.

Directional Terminology

  • Anterior: located toward the front of the body. For example, your knees are anterior to your spinal cord.
  • Anteroposterior: located from front to back. For example, an X-ray is anteroposterior if the beam passes through the front of the body and exits from the rear or posterior wall.
  • Caudal: located close to the bottom of the body. For example, your feet are caudal to your knees.
  • Cranial: located close to the top of the skull. For example, your collar bone is cranial to your pelvis.
  • Deep: far from the surface of the body. For example, the heart's location is deep within the chest cavity.
  • Distal: located on a limb farther from the point of attachment or the trunk. For example, your hand is distal to your elbow.
  • Inferior: located below or beneath another structure. For example, your muscles are inferior to your skin.
  • Inferolateral: located below and towards one side. (Both inferior and lateral.) For example, your little toes are inferolateral to your knees.
  • Lateral: located toward the side of the body. For example, your thumbs are lateral to your little fingers.
  • Medial: describes the middle or direction toward the center of the body. For example, your breastbone is lateral to your collar bone.
  • Posterior: located behind another structure. For example, your lungs are posterior to your sternum.
  • Proximal: located close to another structure. For example, your ankle is proximal to your toes.
  • Superficial: located on the surface or shallow. For example, your ribs are proximal to your skin.
  • Superior: situated nearer the top of the head. For example, your ears are superior to your hands.
  • Common Descriptive Terms

  • Abatement: a reduction in the severity of symptoms
  • Abiotic: without life, nonliving
  • Abortive: shortening the course of a disease
  • Abrasion: friction wearing away of the top layer of skin
  • Abruption: a sudden breaking off
  • Accessory: supplemental
  • Benign: a non-life threatening abnormal growth or tumor
  • Cavity: a hollow space in the body containing one organ or more
  • Etiology: the cause or origin of a particular condition
  • Referred pain: pain experienced in an area than the source
  • Reflux: going backward
  • Remission: disappearance of signs of disease
  • Stimulus: elicits a physiological response
  • Subcutaneous: just beneath the skin
  • Syndrome: a set of symptoms that indicate a particular condition, disease, or abnormality
  • Body Planes

  • The frontal plane: This plane divides the body into an anterior (front) portion and a posterior (rear) portion.
  • The midsagittal plane: This plane runs vertically down the middle of the body.
  • The parasagittal plane: an unequal left or right side of a sagittal plane.
  • The sagittal plane: the plane that divides the body or an organ vertically into right and left sides.
  • The transverse plane: The transverse plane divides the body sideways into upper and lower portions.
  • Motion

    • Abduction: movement that pulls a structure away from the midline of the body or limb. For example, placing your feet shoulder length apart is abduction.
    • Adduction: movement that pulls a structure closer to the midline of the body or limb. For example, standing with your ankles crossed is adduction.
    • Depression: movement moving in a downward direction. For example, lowering your shoulders in frustration is depressive movement.
    • Elevation: movement moving in an upwards direction. Primarily relates to actions involving the shoulders and jaws. For example, shrugging your shoulders is elevated movement.
    • Extension: movement located at a joint that increases the angle between the bones of the limbs at that joint. For example, raising your arms over your head requires the extension of the elbow joint.
    • External rotation: rotational movement away from the median of the body. For example, the lotus position in yoga requires external rotation of the legs.
    • Flexion: a bending movement located at a joint that decreases the angle between the bones of the limbs at that joint. For example, kneeling requires flexion of the knee joint.
    • Internal rotation: rotational movement towards the median of the body. For example, sitting with one knee crossed over the other requires internal rotation of the legs.

    Last, but not least...

    Common Medical Abbreviations

    Below is a list of some common medical abbreviations broken down into three groupings.

    1. General abbreviations
    2. Medical procedures and care
    3. Diagnosis and conditions.

    There is no standardized national list of medical abbreviations. We did, however, find a variety of sources such as MedicineNetTaber's Medical Dictionary, and North Carolina's Office of Emergency Medical Services.


  • AA -- amino acid
  • ABG -- arterial blood gas
  • ADM -- admission, admitted
  • ALS -- advanced life support
  • AMA -- against medical advice
  • ASAP -- as soon as possible
  • A&W -- alive and well
  • C/O -- complains of
  • D/C -- discontinue or discharge
  • DNR -- do not resuscitate
  • DO -- disorder
  • DOA -- dead on arrival or date of admission
  • DOB -- date of birth
  • DOT -- directly observed therapy
  • EDD -- estimated delivery date
  • EGA -- estimated gestational age
  • H&P -- history and physical examination
  • HPI -- history of present illness
  • H/O -- history of
  • HR -- heart rate
  • HS -- the hour of sleep (bedtime)
  • ICU -- intensive care unit
  • IP -- inpatient
  • MCO -- managed care organization
  • NKDA -- no known drug allergies
  • NTG -- nitroglycerin
  • O2 -- oxygen
  • OPD -- outpatient department
  • P -- pulse
  • Post-op -- postoperative (after surgery)
  • Pre-op -- preoperative (before surgery)
  • PA or PT -- patient
  • PCP -- primary care physician
  • RBC -- red blood cell
  • RF -- a risk factor
  • S -- without (sans)
  • SX -- symptoms
  • S/S -- signs and symptoms
  • STAT -- immediately
  • TPR -- temperature, pulse, respiration
  • USOH -- usual state of health
  • VS -- vital signs
  • VSS -- vital signs stable
  • WB -- whole blood
  • WBC -- white blood cell
  • WNL -- within normal limits
  • Medical Procedures And Care

  • AXR -- abdominal x-ray
  • BAC -- blood alcohol content
  • BC -- birth control
  • BE -- barium enema
  • BMT -- bone marrow transplant
  • Bx -- biopsy
  • BRP -- bathroom privileges
  • CPR -- cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • CXR -- chest x-ray
  • ECC -- emergency cardiac care
  • ECG or EKG -- electrocardiogram
  • ECMO -- extracorporeal membrane oxygenation
  • ECT -- electroconvulsive therapy
  • ECV -- external cephalic version
  • FB -- foreign body
  • FNA -- fine needle aspiration
  • FOBT -- fecal occult blood testing
  • GLT -- glucose loading test
  • GTT -- glucose tolerance test
  • H20 -- water
  • I&D -- incision and drainage
  • IM -- intramuscular
  • I&O -- intake and output
  • IV -- intravenous
  • IUPC -- intrauterine pressure catheter
  • In vitro -- in the laboratory
  • In vivo -- in the body
  • KUB -- kidney, ureter, bladder (x-ray)
  • OGTT -- oral glucose tolerance test
  • PAP -- pulmonary artery pressure; Papanicolaou test
  • PEEP -- positive end-expiratory pressure
  • PT -- physical therapy
  • T&C -- type and cross (blood)
  • TPA -- tissue plasminogen activator (dissolve clots), total parenteral alimentation (intravenous nutritional needs)
  • UA -- urinalysis
  • US -- ultrasound
  • XRT -- external radiation therapy
  • Diagnosis And Conditions

  • A&O -- alert and oriented
  • ARDS -- adult respiratory distress syndrome
  • BP -- blood pressure
  • CBC -- complete blood count
  • C/F -- chills, fever
  • CHF -- congestive heart failure
  • CP -- chest pain
  • CV -- cardiovascular
  • CVA -- cerebral vascular accident (stroke)
  • Dx -- diagnosis
  • EBL -- estimated blood loss
  • FB -- foreign body
  • F/C -- fever, chills
  • FHR -- fetal heart rate
  • FT -- full term
  • FX -- fracture
  • GA -- gestational age
  • GH -- growth hormone
  • GI -- gastrointestinal
  • GLT -- glucose loading test
  • GTT -- glucose tolerance test
  • GU -- genitourinary
  • Hb -- hemoglobin
  • HDL -- high-density lipoprotein
  • HR -- heart rate
  • HTN -- hypertension
  • IBS -- inflammatory bowel syndrome
  • ICP -- intracranial pressure
  • IVF -- in vitro fertilization
  • IVIG -- intravenous immune globulin
  • JVD -- jugular venous distension
  • LBP -- lower back pain
  • LBW -- low birth weight
  • LOF -- loss of fluid
  • NAD -- no acute distress
  • NM -- neuromuscular
  • N/V -- nausea vomiting
  • PE -- pulmonary embolism
  • PIH -- pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • RA -- rheumatoid arthritis
  • RDS -- respiratory distress syndrome
  • REM -- rapid eye movements
  • RXN -- reaction
  • SBO -- small bowel obstruction
  • SOB -- shortness of breath
  • STD -- sexually transmitted disease
  • TB -- tuberculosis
  • TBI -- traumatic brain injury
  • UO -- urine output
  • URI -- upper respiratory infection
  • UTI -- urinary tract infection
  • VF -- ventricular fibrillation
  • What We Learned Today

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    Wow, just wow! We covered a lot of material today.

    To begin, we discussed the importance of learning medical terminology.

    The use of proper medical terms creates a standardized language that all healthcare professionals can understand. Knowledge of basic medical terms helps doctors and nurses effectively share information regarding patients. Most importantly, proper knowledge of medical terms improves patient safety.

    Next, we discussed available tools to aid in learning medical terminology.

    There are visual cues such as flashcards, coloring books, as well as smartphone apps, so you can learn on the go. Lastly, there are some awesome self-teaching guides.

    Continuing, we discussed prefixes, suffixes, and root words -- the building blocks of medical terminology.

    And we concluded with a series of glossaries detailing essential medical terminology just for you.

    Now, we would love to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts about the language of medicine in the comments below. And be sure to tell us about any tools you're using to learn medical terminology.

    Happy learning!

    Featured Image via Pixabay