How to Learn Basic Medical Terminology

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It is important to learn the basic structure and foundation of medical words before you attempt to memorize a list of medical terms. Medical terminology is based on Greek and Latin words, making the learning process difficult for anyone without previous education in either language. Through the study of basic terminology, students working toward a career in the medical field begin to learn how to "take apart" a medical word to determine its meaning. To add to the learning curve, some medical terms may be pronounced the same but spelled differently, requiring the student to be a good speller.


  1. Enroll in an introductory medical terminology course. Offered by community colleges and vocational and technical schools, basic medical terminology and medical coding courses introduce you to the way words are created, words that describe body parts, systems and regions within the body, and the different elements used in medical words. Check the class descriptions carefully; some schools may incorporate basic medical terminology into introductory and other medical program classes.

  2. Take an online medical terminology class. Look for online educational courses that offer the program as a Continuing Education Unit to gain CEUs. CEUs can be used to maintain licenses and certifications. Look for educational courses approved for CEUs by the standards organization called the International Association for Continuing Education and Training. Visit the IACET website for a list of schools and organizations that accept IACET CEUs and a search tool that allows you to find your organization by acronym (see Resources).

  3. Study on your own. There are numerous books, flashcards and tools available in bookstores and online that can aid you in learning basic medical terminology. Many online resources are free to use and some offer quizzes and tests to help verify your skill level and ability to retain the information. Look for books that focus on the foundations of learning medical terms rather than providing lists of words to memorize.

  4. Study Latin and Greek before studying medical terminology. Medical terminology is based on combinations of Latin and Greek verbs and adjectives. A beginners course in either language is a helpful tool in understanding the foundation and structure of medical terminology. Keeping a Latin or Greek dictionary close by when learning basic medical terminology is also helpful.

  5. Practice skills by translating medical terms. Read articles and books from trusted medical sources such as "The Journal of the American Medical Association." Studying medical terminology in context with a diagnosis or description of symptoms can help you retain terminology.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some schools may require you to enroll in their medical technology program to take a medical terminology course. This can be expensive if you just want to expand your knowledge. Try online classes or self-study to lower the cost of learning.
  • Dictionaries include explanations of the grammar of a language that may be helpful. This includes information on verbs, conjugation and prefixes.




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