The Origin of Medical Terminology

Understanding the importance use and history of medical terminology can seem complex and difficult to understand. Although these terms may seem intimidating, they can be deciphered and understood if you know what to look for. The meaning of the word medical terminology is a system of words that are used to describe specific medical aspects and diseases. It is based on standard roots, prefixes, suffixes and combing vowel. Most medical terms is made up of Greek and Latin roots. Being able to understand these roots can make knowing the terms easier for yourself and patients to understand the meaning behind them.

If you choose a profession in the medical setting you must be able to know and fully understand medical terminology.

Medical words are constructed in parts to Break down the words into simpler parts. These parts are prefixes, suffixes, root words and vowels helping you to understand the meaning behind the terms more easily. Medical terms will contain one or more root words.

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The root word should give you an idea of what the term pertains to. As in the word pancreatitis, the root word would be pancreas which would refer to the pancreas. Prefixes may be added to root words to add more meaning behind the term. Usually the prefix is in the beginning of the word. An understanding of prefixes will help you to understand the prefixes surrounding medical terminology.

As in the word contraceptive, the prefix is contra, which means against. Suffixes are like prefixes, they intensify the meaning of the term.

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The suffix of the word is usually at the end of the term. They intensify the meaning of the term. Some suffixes are logy which means the study of, sis which means condition or state, and ose which means pertains to or relating to. Then you have the vowels in terms, which connect the root word with the prefixes and suffixes. As in the word ovulation, the letter u is used to combine the root and suffix of the word together, allowing you Medical Terminology 3 to pronounce the word easier.(Saladin. 2007).

The origin or medical terminology begin in the Roman Empire. The history of medical terminology from ancient to modern is divided into five stages. The very first stage is represented by a man named Galen of Pergamon in the Roman Empire. Galen utilized a limited number of terms, which were words of the Greek in this period. The second stage came about early in the 16th century by a man named Vesalius in which the anatomical structures were detailed illustrations. He devised a system that would point out the difference between anatomical structures with ordinal numbers. The third stage happened in the late 16th century and was marked by a large number of specific anatomical terms for the muscles, vessels and nerves.

During the fourth stage in the 17th century there were many anatomical textbooks written mainly in Latin and in modern languages in the 18th and 19th centuries. There were many terms expressed differently by different authors. The last stage began the end of the 19th century when the first international anatomical terminology in Latin was publishedas Nomina anatomica. The anatomical terminology was done over and over, until the current Terminologia anatomica both in Latin and English (Sakai, T. 2007). Latin and Greek were the first people to use medical terminology.

Knowledge of medical terms is very important in the medical field. If you don’t know the difference between a basal rate and a bolus, then how would you know what to use on the patient? And all medical facilities use medical terminology. If you don’t know them you will be lost. Detailed terminology is needed for the doctor so they can accurately describe what is wrong, but basic terminology is needed for the patient so they can understand the problem.

Medical Terminology

My career choice is to become a medical assistant being a medical assistant, you will need to know the terms and be able to identify them. You need to know the anatomy when giving an injection. Knowing Medical terminology will be helpful when filling in patients’ charts, calling in referrals to specialists and when speaking to the physician. Medical assistants perform many clinical and administrative duties in a health care setting. They may answer phones, file medical records and undergo basic business functions. Medical assistants may also work directly with patients documenting medical histories, drawing blood and discussing test results with the patient. A medical assistant must understand medical terminology and how to quickly and easily define the terms, and answer any questions the patient has.

When becoming a medical administrative you also need to know the use of medical terminology when dealing with patient files, and patients themselves. This type of job deals with medical record management, insurance processing, coding and billing, management of practice finances, information processing, and office management tasks. A Medical Administrative is familiar with clinical and technical concepts required to coordinate administrative office functions in the healthcare setting. If you are not able to understand and or speak the terminology, you could be a danger to patients. The words can be broken down into shorter words that mean a specific thing, and learning them is important.

What if the doctor tells you the patient has a uvular edema, and you don’t have a clue as to what that is, or what tests need to be run. Terminology is not as hard as it seems and first your job could be to write down on referrals what the patient has been diagnosed with. Reading doctors’ writing is not the easiest thing to do, and you may need to ask the doctor. So, if the doctor tells you and that is not a word in your vocabulary, you can’t spell it and the Medical Terminology 5 Insurance people deny the insurance, who is to blame? It’s best just to learn, know and be able to understand the terms.


  1. Lewis, K. N. (2004). The Language of modern medicine: It’s all Greek to me. American Surgeon, 70(1), 91-93.
  2. Sakai, T. (2007). Historical evolution of anatomical terminology from ancient to modern. Anatomical Science International, 82(2), 65-81. doi:10.1111/j.1447-073X.2007.00180.x
  3. Sand-Jecklin, K. (2007). The Impact of Medical Terminology on Readability of Patient Education Materials. Journal Of Community Health Nursing, 24(2), 119-129. doi:10.1080/07370010701316254
  4. Saladin. “Major Themes of Anatomy and Physiology.” Anatomy & Physiology: The Unity of Form & Function. 4th ed. New York: Mcgraw Hill, 2007. 20, 21, 22 Print.
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The Origin of Medical Terminology. (2016, Nov 27). Retrieved from

The Origin of Medical Terminology
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