3 Reasons To Know Medical Terminology And The Best Way To Learn It

Scratching your head over medical terminology? Learn the 3 reasons to know medical terminology if you’re a medical coder or have thoughts of being one.  Then find out the best way to learn the subject.

reasons to know medical terminology
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Having a strong grasp of medical terminology is not just for physicians and nurses. Medical coders and billers need to understand it as well. In fact, anyone working in healthcare and dealing with patient records must know the language.

3 Reasons to Know Medical Terminology

  1. Medical terminology is the universal language healthcare professionals use to communicate with each other. Deciphering and pronouncing these terms is necessary to understand what is happening with a patient.
  2. Many different careers in healthcare require a clear understanding of medical terminology, including medical coding and billing. Without clear communication between providers, medical coders, and billers, patients are put in an unsafe environment and may receive improper treatment.
  3. Medical terms and common abbreviations are used in daily documentation. If the terms are unclear or confusing to the coder, it can result in inaccurate coding and reimbursement.

According to AAPC, anyone who plans to sit for the CPC certification exam or one of their other exams (COC, CIC, or CPB), should expect to be tested on medical terminology.

get your free medical terminology reference guide.

Medical Terms Can Be Confusing

Medical terms can be long, baffling, and difficult to pronounce. At least in the beginning. However, most medical terms are translatable, meaning they can be broken down into Greek and Latin word parts.

These word parts (roots, suffixes, and prefixes) repeatedly appear in different terms but hold the same meanings. Once you learn how to break down these words, it won’t be so overwhelming, and you will be able to determine the definitions of many terms. You need to know how.


Let’s take the term “pericarditis” and break it down into its word parts:

  • Peri (prefix) + card (root) + itis (suffix)
  • “Peri” translates to surrounding; “card” translates to the heart; “itis” translates to inflammation.
  • Pericarditis means inflammation of the area surrounding the heart.

Medical terms always have at least one “root,” and sometimes they have several. They do not always have a prefix or suffix.

Now let’s look at the term “sternocleidomastoid.” This term has three roots and no prefix or suffix:

  • Stern (root) – o – cleid (root) – o – mastoid (root)
  • “Stern” translates to sternum; “cleid” translates to the clavicle; “mastoid” is, simply, the mastoid.
  • The vowels (“o”) make the term easier to pronounce and are referred to as combining vowels.

Sternocleidomastoid is a neck muscle that originates in the sternum and clavicle (collarbone) and inserts at the mastoid process.

What is the Best Way to Learn Medical Terminology?

The best way to learn medical terminology is probably the one that works best for you. You can benefit from using different strategies such as learning the common root words on your own, taking a course taught by quality instructors, using textbooks from reputable authors, creating your own flashcards, playing games, and taking quizzes.   

Take a Medical Terminology Course

As a new student in medical terminology, you will learn thousands of medical terms, how to define and pronounce them, and how the terms are abbreviated.

You will do quite a bit of memorization and written work and get a lot of practice using these terms. You may even take a combination course where anatomy is integrated into medical terminology. There are quite a few courses available online. Before you enroll in one, be sure it is from a reliable school with knowledgeable instructors.

CCO (Certification Coaching Organization) is an online school that offers a Medical Terminology & Anatomy Course, among many other courses. The school has a great reputation and provides excellent student support.

CCO’s lectures/videos are provided online, and you can take the course at your own pace. When you enroll, you also get a personal coach, so you aren’t left alone without anyone to answer your questions. Also, the price is affordable, and they even offer a payment plan if you need it.

As I mentioned in my review of CCO’s Review Blitz Course, their instructors are quite knowledgeable and experienced, and they present the material in a comprehensive, easy-to-understand manner.

Buy a Medical Terminology Textbook

Medical Terminology & Anatomy for Coding by Betsy J. Shiland

I have a few different medical terminology textbooks, but I particularly like Betsy Shiland’s book, Medical Terminology & Anatomy for Coding. What I like about it is that it is written with the medical coder in mind. It incorporates terminology with anatomy and physiology and mixes it with ICD-10 and CPT coding guidelines. 

According to Betsy Shiland, “Learning the specific anatomy and terminology necessary for ICD-10 and CPT is the key to assigning codes correctly. Those who learn medical terminology and its direct connections to anatomy will pass their coding tests and learn to assign codes with more confidence and accuracy.”

Find Fun Ways to Learn Medical Terminology

Who doesn’t like to have a little fun while they’re learning? I know I do. Quizzes and games are always fun ways to learn medical terminology and anatomy. In fact, you can get some quizzes, challenges, and crossword puzzles here.

Additionally, some “Related” posts are listed below for more practice/fun.

How I Can Help You

I have created a Medical Terminology Quick Reference Guide – a cheat sheet of sorts – to make it quicker and easier for you to learn these terms. The terms are broken down by common word roots, prefixes, suffixes, and combining vowels, and examples are included. The body systems and their parts are also provided.

To get your free Reference Guide, simply complete the form down below. 


As a medical coder or biller, you are expected to have a clear understanding of medical terminology if you are to succeed in healthcare. Without it, you will be unable to do your job, and you may even put a patient at risk of physical harm and affect reimbursement.  So take a terminology course or learn on your own with the help of a textbook, but make sure the source is reliable. And have some fun while learning through games, quizzes, and puzzles.

reasons to know medical terminology
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    1. Hi Melony,

      You have a little time left to make sure you’re ready. If you haven’t taken many timed practice exams, make sure to do that. Take as many as you can until you can score 85% on them. Any areas that you have trouble with, go back and review. Make sure you have your books marked up and you can quickly find the answers. You may want to read my post here where I talk about it.

      You’ve got this! Good luck!

  1. I am just turning 50 and looking for a complete career change. Do you think I’m starting out a little to late to start studying to be a medical biller and/or coder?

    1. Hi Becky,

      You are not alone, as many people have made career changes at your age, including myself. Think of all the previous experience, knowledge, and insight you bring to the table. If you were going into another type of career, I might not be as confident in saying this. However, medical codes are in great demand, and the profession is expected to grow through 2030. I talk about it in this article.

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