Why Learning Medical Terminology Should be a CNA’s Way of Life


Article Categories: Jobs & CNA Skills

It is a busy Monday morning once again, and it’s huddle time before the shift starts. The team leader, who barely said “good morning,” does not waste time before bombarding the team with patient details:



"Mr. Anderson, male, 42 years old, with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease has worsened, has aphasia, achalasia . . . has also agranulocytosis most possibly due to the drug Aricept…. Will need strict I and O monitoring . . ."

Alzheimer’s . . . aphasia . . . achalasia . . . agranulocytosis . . . Aricept . . . Aw-my-g . . . What?!?

After a double shift, this sounds almost like gibberish. For a second, you think you might be dreaming, but the people around you are real and you feel your notebook in your hand, waiting for you to jot something down. Finally, after what seems like forever, you write “Anderson, I and O.” You glance at your fellow CNA, who seems dazed as well.

It’s simple. You need to give more effort to learning medical terminology and jargon if you want to keep up with your team.

As a bedside worker in the healthcare world, familiarity with medical terms is an absolute must. Learning the terminology creates a common understanding among team members and, more importantly, it makes you the nursing assistant a critical thinker instead of just a follower.

The critical thinking made possible by understanding health-related words makes you confident in your job, because you know why a doctor’s orders are necessary and why patients with a certain disorder show particular signs and symptoms. Medical terms and jargon are like a treasure map. Without them, you don’t know what you are doing or why you are doing the tasks you have been assigned.

Here are some helpful ideas to keep in mind, as well as tips on how to familiarize yourself with medical terms:

1. Nursing assistant school does not give it all to you.

Hard truth: In school, you probably learned a dictionary’s worth of new medical words, and all those terms are still not enough! As you work as a CNA, you’ll realize that learning needs to happen every day.

Tip #1: Write unfamiliar words in your notebook as you encounter them. Mental notes don’t work because you won’t remember something that doesn’t make sense. Look for the meaning of the word as soon as you can and write that down, too. As time goes on, you’ll be surprised at how many new terms you have learned.

2. Create a cheat sheet of unfamiliar terminology.

Whether it is a simple list, flashcards, or even a poster, make the effort for whatever works for you.

Tip #2: Divide the terms into prefixes, suffixes, and root words and see how it can change the way you work, for the better.

3. Create a mental picture.

In ordinary circumstances, this may be difficult. But with practice, this strategy is very effective.

Tip#3: A patient is a living story, creating a clear image for you. Terms will ring a bell every time you link them to analyze a patient’s condition. You begin to see yourself caring for the patient more efficiently. You will be able to understand why procedures and treatments are needed.

The care plan, on the other hand, is the written story. Mentally connect them to make sense of the meaning of the words. Once you master this skill, there’s nothing stopping you from learning and achieving more and perhaps becoming an LPN or an RN someday.

Medical terminology is not meant to make your life as a CNA more difficult. It is available as a common language to all healthcare workers so that they can care for patients as a team. Although getting familiar with the terms may feel overwhelming at first, nursing assistants must challenge themselves to learn every day, to make a real impact as part of the healthcare team.

Try reviewing the course material on medical terminology no 2 class from our course library.

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