Understanding medical terminology can make all the difference in critical health situations. And while understanding medical language is serious business for care providers, learning medical terminology can actually be a thought-provoking, interesting crash course in the history and development of language and parts of speech.
For those who are new to, or are looking to enter the medical field, having a firm grasp on medical verbiage, roots and meanings can give you a leg up as you continue your studies and progress in your career. To get you started, here is our introductory guide to medical terminology, which will serve as a solid foundation as you work to diversify and enhance your medical language skills.
Medical terminology refers to the words and language used specifically in the medical and health fields. The proper definition describes medical terminology as language used to describe anatomical structures, procedures, conditions, processes and treatments in the medical field.
While memorizing terms across that many disciplines might seem impossible, medical language can be simplified when you understand that nearly all medical terms can be broken down into three parts: the prefix, the root and the suffix.
Medical terminology is the linguistic foundation on which the entire healthcare system is built. Because physicians are trained at varying universities and complete their training across different hospitals and disciplines and geographies, having a singular medical terminology system ensures that effective care is delivered while reducing the potential for miscommunication.
Studies show that a standardized medical terminology system can improve overall hospital operations — both in terms of data and clinical applications of such data. A second report found that medical terminology and the usage of structured reporting can improve the usage of medical information in secondary activities, such as research, public health and case studies. This not only will help make research efforts more efficient, it will likely result in better outcomes for patients and medical innovation.
Additional benefits of standardized medical terminology include:
Taking a medical terminology course is a great first step to equip you with the skills and knowledge you’ll need to be successful.
half (one side)
two | three | four
bi- | tri- | qua(dr/r/t)-
Time or Speed
pro-, pre-, ante-
time, long time
Location or Relationship
out of, outside
Function or Quality
not working correctly
A lot of medical terms get their roots from Latin and ancient Greek language, much like many words in the English and romance languages. Here are some of the most common medical root words healthcare providers must know.
Heart and Circulatory
Bones and Muscles
intestine (usually small)
Other Common Roots
The last ingredient in a medical term is likely the suffix, which provides more specifics about the term’s application. Here are just a few of the most important medical suffixes to know.
Basic Noun and Adjective Suffixes
-a, -e, -um, -is
-ia, -ism, -sis, -y
-iatry, -iatrics, -ics
-ac, -ar(y), -(e/i)al, -ic(al), -ior, -ory, -ous, -tic
Tests and Procedures
making a picture
Pathology or Function
blood (condition of)
condition or disease
Just as you would with any new skill, expanding your vocabulary and learning medical terminology takes practice, practice, practice. To assist you during your studies, we’ve rounded up some helpful resources and study tools focused on medical terminology.
No matter what resource you turn to, we recommend starting with the Medical Terminology course from the University of San Diego. This online, self-paced course allows you to immerse yourself in the world of medical language in a way that works for you and your schedule. Participants in this course gain a deep understanding of important medical, diagnostic and laboratory abbreviations and terms they will need throughout their medical careers. To learn more about this course or any of our healthcare programs, please contact us.
This course has a maximum of six (6) months from the date of enrollment to complete the course. Students are recommended to allocate a minimum of two weeks (14 calendar days) per semester unit to complete a course; this time frame allows for instructor interaction and feedback between assignments.
This course is taught in an online Learning Management System. Students will be provided access information upon registration.
Once all course work is submitted, a final grade is submitted by the instructor. The grade is then approved by the office and posted. Once a final grade is posted, official transcripts can be requested — learn more about transcript requests here.
The textbook set for this course should be purchased directly from the publisher.
Improve your medical terminology, mental health, and more with 100% online courses.