If you’re starting nursing school, medical school or certification in one of the allied health professions, you will soon become familiar with common medical terms. What sounds like Greek and Latin now, will soon become your second language, and after a bit of practice, words like ‘intravenous therapy’ and ‘intercostal spaces’ will roll easily off your tongue. You’ll gradually start using common abbreviations too, instead of the clunky expanded forms. More important than learning medical words one by one though, is understanding what individual word parts mean and how they fit together in medical terminology.

What’s the need to know word parts or their meanings, you might ask? Can’t we just pick it up as we go along? Yes, experience is one way to learn a language. Besides, rote learning is no fun and memorizing lists of words is a painful exercise for most people. In any event, no medical terminology course can completely teach the vocabulary of the workplace. But there are advantages to understanding what meaning particular prefixes, roots and suffixes give to medical words.

For starters, you’ll be able to impress friends and family by figuring out the meaning of trick words that they use to challenge your medical knowledge. Words like pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, supposedly the longest word in the dictionary. You could immediately identify this as a condition affecting the lung (and somehow related to volcanoes), provided you knew the meanings of the prefix pneumo– and the suffix -osis.

On a more serious note though, knowing the basic suffixes and prefixes of medical terms could come in handy during a quiz or exam. When faced with a question about an unknown condition, you could guess wildly, leave it blank, or use you word breakdown skills to select the best answer. The sooner you get these useful word skills, the better prepared you will be.

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