Medical Terminology: First Step on a New Career Path
January 8, 2009

Nursing Career

In these days of economic uncertainty, career change is a hot button issue. As baby boomers retire and leave the work force, employers are concerned about the shortage of skilled workers. In addition, corporate cost cutting, off-shoring, layoffs, and forced career changes leave many workers with difficult choices. Gone are the days of one job and one employer for life. Following a career path today can mean maneuvering many twists and turns, setbacks, side roads, and blind alleys. Where is the roadmap to a new career that provides enrichment, stability and growth potential?

One of the best ways to ease some of the uncertainty and increase your marketability quotient is to broaden your skill set. Since continuing education is often required to maintain licenses and certifications, make those education hours do double duty. The right training can mean more opportunities in your current field, and serve as a stepping stone to a new career. But which industries offer the best chance for job stability and advancement?

It is predicted that expanding healthcare and healthcare-related industries will require many additional skilled workers in the coming decade. According to Forbes Magazine, "As well-heeled baby boomers age, look to the health care industry… (B)etween 2004 and 2014, seven of the 10 fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. will be in health care." In addition to careers directly involved in patient care, demand for support professionals such as medical records and health information technicians, therapists, counselors, and medical transcriptionists will increase.

A basic requirement for entry into almost any healthcare-related career is a command of medical terminology. The ability to recognize, understand, spell, and pronounce basic medical terms, identify medical abbreviations, and decipher unfamiliar words using roots, suffixes and prefixes is a necessary tool to perform well in any medical setting. Medical terminology courses are widely available in online, home study and instructor-led formats. Because medical technology advances rapidly, medical terminology evolves to keep pace. To stay on top of new terminology, consider taking the course again if you've taken it in the past.

The Department of Labor database lists seven nontraditional careers that require medical terminology.

Medical Transcriptionists - To understand and accurately transcribe dictated reports, medical transcriptionists must understand medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, diagnostic procedures, pharmacology, and treatment assessments. They also must be able to translate medical jargon and abbreviations into their expanded forms.

Medical Records and Health Information Technicians - In addition to general education, coursework requirements for medical records and health information technicians includes medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, legal aspects of health information, health data standards, coding and abstraction of data, statistics, database management, quality improvement methods, and computer science.

Surgical Technologists - Surgical technologists receive their training in formal programs offered by community and junior colleges, vocational schools, universities, hospitals, and the military. In 2006, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) recognized more than 400 accredited training programs. Programs last from 9 to 24 months and lead to a certificate, diploma, or associate degree. Programs provide classroom education and supervised clinical experience. Students take courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, professional ethics, and medical terminology. Other topics covered include the care and safety of patients during surgery, sterile techniques, and surgical procedures. Students also learn to sterilize instruments; prevent and control infection; and handle special drugs, solutions, supplies, and equipment. Most employers prefer to hire certified technologists.

Occupational Therapist Assistants and Aides - There were 126 accredited occupational therapist assistant programs in 2007. The first year of study typically involves an introduction to health care, basic medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology. In the second year, courses are more rigorous and usually include occupational therapist courses in areas such as mental health, adult physical disabilities, gerontology, and pediatrics. Students also must complete 16 weeks of supervised fieldwork in a clinic or community setting.

Radiologic Technologists and Technicians - The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology accredits most formal training programs for the field. The committee accredited more than 600 radiography programs in 2007. The programs provide both classroom and clinical instruction in anatomy and physiology, patient care procedures, radiation physics, radiation protection, principles of imaging, medical terminology, positioning of patients, medical ethics, radiobiology, and pathology.

Medical Assistants - Postsecondary medical assisting programs are offered in vocational-technical high schools, postsecondary vocational schools, and community and junior colleges. Programs usually last either 1 year and result in a certificate or diploma, or 2 years and result in an associate degree. Courses cover anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology, as well as typing, transcription, recordkeeping, accounting, and insurance processing. Students learn laboratory techniques, clinical and diagnostic procedures, pharmaceutical principles, the administration of medications, and first aid. They also study office practices, patient relations, medical law, and ethics. There are various organizations that accredit medical assisting programs, and accredited programs often include an internship that provides practical experience in physicians' offices, hospitals, or other health care facilities.

Court Reporters - Candidates for first level court reporting certification - the CVR - must pass a written test of spelling, punctuation, vocabulary, legal and medical terminology and three 5-minute dictation and transcription examinations that test for speed, accuracy, and silence.

In addition to these fields, many other professionals can benefit from an understanding of medical terminology. Lawyers, paralegals, legal secretaries and other legal professionals handling cases involving medical-related issues are better able to litigate these cases when they understand the terminology involved. Health insurance professionals, as well as those working in medical billing and coding positions also benefit from a working knowledge of medical terminology.

Many agencies require certification in medical terminology for pharmacy technicians. Professionals and technicians of biology, dentistry, hospital administration and many others must properly utilize medical terminology to communicate with patients, staff, customers and colleagues. Therapists, technicians, counselors and home health care providers can improve communication, increase the quality of care to patients, and reduce oversights and liability issues with a clear understanding of medical terminology.

A course in medical terminology is a widely accessible means to broaden your skill set, boost your marketability, and increase opportunities for advancement in your current career while helping you map a route to exciting work in the healthcare industry. Doubling the value of your time and education leads to better employment that will enrich your life.

About the author:

Donna Swanson is a Registered Nurse and the CE Program Developer at Corexcel, a company specializing in online continuing education and workforce training. For more information about Corexcel and the training materials they offer, visit

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