Dear Coding Support: Medical Terminology Help

Coding and BillingNo Comments

medical wordsDear Coding Support,

I am so discouraged right now! I have worked through the modules in the first part of the course moving along at a really good pace. Now I am in Medical Terminology, and I have slowed way down. There are so many terms and definitions! I am writing them all down, and I started to make flash cards to help me memorize all of them but I’m feeling like it is just too much to remember! My brains are fried! Can you give me any advice? I just feel like if the rest of the course is like this there is no way I will finish by the goal date I set and now this feeling of discouragement is keeping me from moving forward.

What can I do?

Med Term Turtle

Dear Turtle,

You are not alone! A lot of students give us this same feedback at this point in their course. Medical terminology is an essential part of being a medical coder. There is enough info in the Medical terminology textbook to take up an entire college semester, but for the purposes of this course, we would like you to take a more balanced approach than memorizing the entire medical lexicon.

This reminds me of a trip to the grocery store I made a few days ago…

For me this was not an average trip to the store; I had to stock up on everything. I hurried to the back of the store to get started by grabbing my milk, yogurt, and eggs. They didn’t have the kind of yogurt I like, so I moved on to grab some bread with my milk and eggs in hand. I got to the wall of bread and found what I wanted. But when I went to grab the bread I realized my hands were full. I had forgotten to get a shopping cart—an obvious essential when you’re buying a pile of groceries. Once I got back up to the front of the store and snagged a cart (a bumpy, squeaky one that pulled to one side, of course) I was able to finish my shopping like a super hero.

How is this like learning med term? Before I went to the store I made a long list of things I needed. This is like going through the Medical Terminology module and becoming familiar with the terms. Putting the bread, milk, and eggs in the shopping cart (“buggy” for my southern friends) is like advancing in the modules that follow Med Term.

The shopping cart is context. You get to take all those prefixes, suffixes, and root words you learned and put them in the cart by using them in context in the successive biomedical and coding modules. Because there are so many terms, it doesn’t make sense to try to memorize all of them out of context—that’s like me walking around the store like a dufus, my hands full without a buggy. Learning the terms in context provides practical understanding of how they are used as well as increased retention—again, the shopping cart holds more stuff than you can carry yourself.

The purpose of the instruction in the Med Term module is to introduce you to word parts, abbreviations, and terms so you are familiar enough with them that you will not be dumbfounded when you see them in subsequent modules. Taking time to memorize them is taking too much time. There will NOT be a “Medical Terminology Bee” at the end of the course. The key is recognition, not memorization. You will have plenty of repetitive practice using them in context by the end of the course.

There are a lot of materials available with the terminology book, and most are optional. Focus on the reading and the exercises assigned from the book. Use resources when you are taking the chapter tests in the online course and don’t get stressed when you can’t remember something. Just don’t let the number of items on your shopping list slow you down! You will have the next 8 modules and over 250 medical reports to fill that buggy to the top.

Leave a comment below »

  1. Cindy Erickson February 05, 2015

    I was thinking the same thing as Turtle just last night. I felt that I was cheating if I continually went back to the book for the information I couldn’t remember.  Thanks for the support.

  2. Instructor Craig Laursen February 05, 2015

    Glad it was timely! Thanks for the comment, Cindy. Please let us know when you need anything.

  3. Danita Intorn February 08, 2015

    I’m planning on the taking the medical coding class in the near future and was concerned if their is good support when going through the course?

  4. Career Step February 09, 2015

    Hi Danita,

    Yes, we have an entire team of coding support advisors who are available by phone, email, and chat to help you throughout the program. They also post once a week here on the blog and are available via Facebook.

    If you’d like to read a few stories of other medical coding and billing students (many of whom mention the support they received), check out our Graduate Success Library at

    Hope that helps!

  5. Carole Hardan February 09, 2015

    Hello this blog concerned me at first, I know that coding has a lot to remember. But then I see that help is available. I am looking for a school to help me prep for the IDC-10 test.  Is anyone out there taking this class? Any feed back would be appreciated.

  6. Career Step February 10, 2015

    Hi Carole,

    We have several ICD-10 training courses. Our Professional Medical Coding and Billing ICD-9/10 course will take you from no knowledge in the field to well-trained professional prepared to code in both ICD-9 and ICD-10. If you’re already a trained coder, we have an ICD-10 FastTrack course that will teach you just the ICD-10 code set. Both of these courses include one-on-one help from experienced instructors by phone, email, and chat throughout the learning experience.

    You can find more information on our website at

    Hope that helps!

  7. Brandi Browning February 20, 2015

    The best way to learn medical terminology is the Dean Vaughn video system. These videos are available to watch on YouTube. They add a unique twist and really help you to remember much easier

  8. Niki February 20, 2015

    Turtle was reading my thoughts exactly…have slowed way down since entering MT. I really really appreciate your comments about it not being necessary to memorize all of it. I have been freaked though worried about the exam to get certified….will I need to have memorized a lot of terminology to pass that certification test. AND: do you have any stats on how careerstep students do at taking the certification exam?

  9. Career Step February 23, 2015

    Hi Niki,

    As you progress through the course, much of the terminology will become second nature as you improve your coding skills. This will help ensure you’re prepared for certification after graduation.

    In a recent Career Step survey, over 81% of respondents who had taken a certification exam after graduation reported passing the exam and earning their credential—which is nearly 20 percentage points higher than the national average! Hopefully that offers some of the encouragement you were looking for. =)

    Best wishes!

  10. Becky Sledge April 28, 2015

    Thanks Craig for the blog. I have been feeling like all the others with the slow progress in the medical terminology section.  This help set me at ease somewhat.  So I can move on a bit faster.  Thanks for all your help.



  11. Alicia Ray December 26, 2015

    12/26/15 Thanks Craig for your phone call and info to this blog site. I feel like turtle did too. And I have been an LPN for over 20 yrs. I’ve used and spoken this med-language for a long time but have Never had to dig in so deep. I have a need to complete this course in as short of time as possible but found this was a real snag.
    Your call and this blog have shown me how I can get through in time now.
    Thank you so much. BTW this is an excellent course and I feel it will prepare me well for the future of ICD10 coding. Alicia

  12. Joseph N April 06, 2016

    Thank you so much for this blog. I felt alone in this module but now I know there other people going through the exact same circumstances.

    Hi Joseph-
    Thank you for your comment-we are so glad it was helpful for you!

    Best wishes!

  13. Patricia October 12, 2016

    Thank you so much for this blog. I thought I was alone in this overwhelming feeling since entering this part of the course. Med Term is something I’ve taken twice before in my past medical profession, but never to this degree. Your info has truly helped me move forward more confidently and prepared. I now feel reassured in meeting my end goal.

  14. Kathryn October 27, 2016

    I am feeling so frustrated in medical term. It’s like drinking from a fire hose.  I was doing fine and now I’ve hit a wall and I can’t imagine I will finish on time at this rate.  I’m getting a bit discouraged but will press on. I feel like I’m trying to hurry to finish this section on time and if I miss a night then I know I’m behind.  Aarrrgghh.

  15. Kathryn October 27, 2016

    I am feeling so frustrated in medical.  Term.  Not having any medical background this is becoming overwhelming. I’m wondering how many hours the average person puts in per day when they’re working full-time somewhere else. It doesn’t seem like 12 months is enough time. Does everyone write down all the definitions?  Going to have to use Journal notebook because there’s just not enough room in the work book.  Determined to continue though.. Just frustrated.

  16. Career Step October 31, 2016

    Hi Kathryn,
    Keep your chin up! You’re learning more than you realize, and all your hard work will pay off. Med Term is difficult because it is new and there is so much to learn. Please know that you are not expected to memorize everything. Check out this helpful post about Medical Terminology:

    If you ever need help, or even just a little encouragement, make sure you reach out to your instructors at 1-888-657-5752 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

    Best wishes!

  17. Shery November 15, 2016

    This post from turtle & all of these responses have really helped me a lot. Medical Terminology is very interesting for me, but also very overwhelming! I’m glad to know that I’m not alone.
    Thank you!

  18. Laura January 18, 2017

    So glad i came across this post.  I’m feeling the same way, overwhelmed and slowed down.

  19. Career Step January 18, 2017

    Hi Laura,
    We are so glad this post was helpful for you and are sorry you are feeling overwhelmed—please know you are certainly not alone.

    We have a variety of resources to help you be successful in your course. One option is our chat rooms. You can chat with other students and Career Step instructors to get support and help. Read this blog post to learn more:

    We also have student support services to help you with your questions and concerns. You can go to this link to contact them. You can also call us at 1-800-411-7073 or email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Keep your chin up and remember we are here to support you!

    Best wishes!



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