To prepare for pa training, you need medical terminology

PA training is much easier if you have some medical terminology

With all the prerequisites to prepare for PA training programs, I know you don’t really have time for electives, but there’s one course that you should make time for.  In fact, you would be foolish to skip it.  It has helped me as much as any physiology or microbiology course, and at times has reduced my workload in PA school drastically.  The best news: it was an easy course. 

Have you taken medical terminology?  If not, you should.  Very few PA programs require it or even care if you’ve taken it, but that’s not the only reason you take courses, is it?  Man, I hope not, for your sake.

What is medical terminology?

Medicine has its own language.  Medical terminology is the course that teaches you that language.  Most of this language is derived from either Latin or Greek, and is built around word roots, prefixes, and suffixes.  Word roots are word sounds that denote specific locations or topics (for example, corpor(o), which means body).  Prefixes are word beginnings, like infra-, which means “below”.  And suffixes are word endings like -algia, which means “pain.” 

Why you should learn medical terminology:

  • It will make your life in PA school much more efficient.  If you’ve had it, when you come across a new word, you may be able to figure it out just by looking at the word’s prefix, root, and suffix.  I cannot overstate how helpful this is!  While you’re fellow students run to their medical dictionaries and spend precious time looking a word up, you will already know it and be moving on to the next concept. 
  • Having some medical terminology will allow you to memorize terms much more quickly, because you can “translate”
    the infraorbital foramen

    infraorbital foramen: #4

    them.  Take an example: the anatomical term infraorbital foramen.  If you don’t know medical terminology, the word might as well be in Navajo (I guess you’d be sitting pretty if you spoke Navajo, but otherwise, you’re stewed!)  But knowing some medical terminology, you can break it apart: infra- = below, orbital = a bony cavity (think of planets orbiting the sun in a circle), and foramen = hole.  Put them together, and you know that infraorbital foramen describes a hole that is below a bony cavity.  If you know that the orbit  is the eye socket, you’re even better off.  Now you don’t need to memorize the term, because you understand what it is by looking at the word.  Turns out it’s where the infraorbital vein, artery, and nerve come out – number 4 on the photo to the right.

  • So you won’t sound like a dumb-butt.  Okay, this is a little flip, but medicine is a field of bright folks who all speak the language of medicine.  If you don’t speak it, you’re not really a part of it.  And God help you if you enter your surgery rotation and you don’t know the difference between a resection and an excision.  Don’t think they won’t notice.
  • Finally, you wouldn’t move to France for two or three years without learning some of the language, would you?  So why would you go to PA school for two or three years without learning the language of medicine?


Don’t have time or money for a medical terminology course?  Here are some references to get you started on your own:

  1. Medical Terminology Course (a free online course)
  2. Des Moines University Free Online Medical Terminology Course (A free online course)
  3. MediLexicon (a free medical terminology reference)
  4. Interactive Medical Terminology Exercises (free interactive web-based exercises)
  5. Medical Terminology and Abbreviations Quick Reference (an iphone/smartphone app)