Tackling the Learning Curve of Medical Terminology: Experience of a Medical Student with a Background in Classical Languages





Undergraduate Medical Education, Medical Student, Terminology, Anatomy, History of Medicine


Upon entering medical school, many students encounter a steep learning curve when handling the vast and intricate vocabulary that healthcare workers use daily. Since the basis of medical terminology has developed from the roots of classical languages, it would theoretically be helpful to provide medical students with a foundational knowledge of Latin and Greek. My experience with learning classical languages before entering medical school has allowed me to have a formulaic approach when tackling unfamiliar medical terminology. By breaking up medical terms like transsphenoidal hypophysectomy into their respective roots, I can create a quick definition for myself before being given any formal teaching on the matter. The primary advantage of this learning style is that it reduces the burden of memorization on the student. The lectures from medical school help refine the preliminary definitions, which makes memorization much easier since students already have a basic framework for each new term encountered. However, certain considerations need to be kept in mind when utilizing the classical approach to understanding medical terminology. For example, the Latin and Greek roots cannot define eponyms like Wilson’s disease, named after the person who discovered the disease, or provide information on medications as their names have non-classical origins. Overall from my experience, the benefits of the formulaic approach make it a valuable tool during the initial years of medical school when the content is taught in a classroom setting and it can provide the foundation for an easier transition into the clinical environment.


Stiles L, Russell S. The Anatomy of Medical Terminology. 3rd enhanced edition. Hamilton (CA): Radix Antiqua; 2019.

Schroeder T, Elkheir S, Farrokhyar F, Allard-Coutu A, Kahnamoui K. Does exposure to anatomy education in medical school affect surgical residency applications? An analysis of Canadian residency match data. Can J Surg. 2020;63(2):E129-34. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cjs.019218

Drake RL, McBride JM, Lachman N, Pawlina W. Medical education in the anatomical sciences: the winds of change continue to blow. Anat Sci Educ. 2009;2(6):253-9. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ase.117

Smith SB, Carmichael SW, Pawlina W, Spinner RJ. Latin and Greek in gross anatomy. Clin Anat. 2007;20(3):332-7. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ca.20342

Stephens S, Moxham BJ. Gross anatomy examination performances in relation to medical students' knowledge of classical Latin and Greek. Clin Anat. 2018;31(4):501-6. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ca.23056

Burdan F, Dworzański W, Cendrowska-Pinkosz M, Burdan M, Dworzańska A. Anatomical eponyms - unloved names in medical terminology. Folia Morphol (Warsz). 2016;75(4):413-38. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5603/FM.a2016.0012

Stephens S, Moxham BJ. The attitudes of medical students toward the importance of understanding classical Greek and Latin in the development of an anatomical and medical vocabulary. Clin Anat. 2016;29(6):696-701. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ca.22700


2023-03-30 — Updated on 2023-06-30

How to Cite

Khamar, J. (2023). Tackling the Learning Curve of Medical Terminology: Experience of a Medical Student with a Background in Classical Languages. International Journal of Medical Students, 11(2), 147–149. https://doi.org/10.5195/ijms.2023.1935