Dear Coding Support: Medical Terminology Help

Posted on 02.04.2015

Dear 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.