Mastering Medical Terminology: Effective Learning Techniques for Nurses

Let’s face it: medical degrees are tough, and medical terminology can be even tougher. The days of learning Latin or Ancient Greek just to understand a medical degree are behind us. With information becoming more accessible today than ever, there is an overwhelming list of learning methods, and with studies showing a worrying rise in burnout, now is the time to plan strategically.

Various methods are available to expedite the learning process, catering to your unique objectives. Despite requiring hard work, studying an online accelerated BSN program is a game changer for those eager students looking to kickstart a nursing career.

You most probably have a variety of goals already planned for 2024, and mastering medical terminology is likely high on that list of goals. That’s why we’ve put together seven tried and tested tips and tricks to support you on your nursing journey. The techniques in this article recognize the individualized nature of learning to ensure a well-rounded approach to assist your unique learning process.

Try a Mix of Different Learning Styles

Chances are, if you have been around the modern education system for any good amount of time, PowerPoint presentations about the big four learning styles are burnt into the back of your eyes. Unfortunately, these learning styles are less black and white than previously thought, as shown by a recent study on anatomy students, which indicated no correlation between learning styles and grade outcomes.

This study also showed that we learn best through high-quality teaching and a mixture of different mediums upon which it is delivered. With medicine in particular, you may enjoy re-listening to lectures for key terms in context (auditory learning) and, at the same time, benefit from making your own flashcards (visual).

The bottom line – is don’t be pigeonholed by singular learning styles. Mix and match as much as you can with whatever tools work for you.

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Join a Study Group

For the more social among us, getting the chance to brainstorm with others is ideal. Our peers may know many terms we do not. So whether it is reading out each other’s flashcards, playing word association games, or just sharing vocabulary lists, many of the techniques listed can be broadened to include others.

It could be as simple as turning up to study sessions, getting added to a group chat for study, or making sure you are there to help others so that when the time comes, those late-night messages to study buddies get answered.

Make Use of Apps

In this technological age, there are so many great options of study apps available to students. Live quiz and flashcard apps are abundant for a quick serotonin boost. Jump on one of the many trivia apps and test your medical term knowledge against others. This is a great option while you’re out and about, whether you’re commuting somewhere via public transport or waiting around with a few minutes to spare.

Alternatively, if you, like me, are a podhead, pop on your favorite podcast (that is medically related, of course) through whichever app you use and write down any complex terminology you aren’t familiar with.

Brush up on Your Routs and Suffixes Knowledge

For the amateur ancient language enthusiasts out there, a straightforward way to grasp medical terms is by getting familiar with prefixes, suffixes, and roots. These linguistic elements commonly originate from Latin or Greek and provide a simple place to start when associating terms with their meaning.

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This approach not only introduces you to historical languages but also reveals the basic components and meanings of medical terms. For instance, by breaking down “cardiology,” where “cardi-” signifies the heart, and “-ology” indicates the study of.

Test Yourself

Mock testing is effective across the board, with a whole host of studies on the efficacy of this method showing positive results. If you are a student coming up to a term-heavy test, get the best outcome by completing multiple mock tests before the real thing. It’s a helpful way to become comfortable and confident with any topic.

Mock tests don’t have to cover every single aspect that the real test will look at. Break subjects down into more manageable slices, try answering one question at a time, go back over your answer, and see how many terms you remembered correctly. If you miss a couple of key terms, don’t stress. Write them down, make new flashcards, whatever works, so that next time you get that well-deserved A.

Try Out Mnemonics Memory Techniques

Tricking your hippocampus into associating concepts or words with one another is a real skill. Memorizing definitions and keywords allows you to unpack more words and their meanings. If this sounds like fun to you, check out this interesting list of mnemonic methods.

Many of us believe that reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading notes is a good method when trying to recall information. It may be the case for some people, but not for others! The fact is our brains learn best when challenged with new information in a process called active recall.

Thinking about what we are thinking is called metacognition ( in ancient Greek, meta = beyond and cognoscere = getting to know); it is a way to challenge your own ideas and promote the aforementioned active recall.

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Consider Conditioning Your Behaviour

This classical psychological technique underpins how we learn and retain new information until it becomes ingrained behavior. There are two main behavioral methods developed in the 19th and 20th centuries: operant and classical conditioning.

Applying classical conditioning to the learning of medical terms involves associating a neutral stimulus, such as listening to Mozart during study sessions, with an unconditioned stimulus, like rewarding oneself with chocolate after successfully answering each medical term question. Over time, the brain connects listening to Mozart with correctly answering a question so that the mere sounds of Symphony No. 25 will have you feeling successful.

Consciously noticing conditioned behavior and implementing positive rewards would improve the conditions for deep learning to occur. Self-efficacy can be improved by maintaining a strong ‘’why’’. Knowing why we are learning and understanding why it matters. Reminding ourselves that we chose this path for a reason can be a huge motivator for increasing success.

Both methods of behavioral conditioning believe that choosing complex and challenging tasks, completing them, and reflecting will build a strong sense of self, thus exponentially raising one’s perception of what is possible.

Final Thoughts

Mastering medical terminology requires a range of approaches. We have looked at a selection of diverse strategies to enhance comprehension and retention. From leveraging technology with quiz apps and podcasts to embracing collaborative learning in study groups, the key is flexibility in choosing methods that suit your individual preferences.

Ultimately, the journey to mastering medical terminology is a dynamic process that requires adaptability, collaboration, and a strategic blend of traditional and modern learning techniques. By incorporating these strategies, nurses can navigate the complexities of medical language with confidence, ensuring a solid foundation for their practice and contributing to their overall success in the demanding field of healthcare.

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