It takes more than memorization to learn medical terminology

Two college students taking notes and using online learning technology

After my first time teaching medical terminology in the spring of 2013, I quickly realized that my students were minimally engaged (if at all) with the course content. It was also not hard to figure out that many students were simply not retaining what they were learning. No matter if the course was taught fully online or if it was taught in the hybrid format, the results were the same.

To help boost engagement, I designed a variety of in-class, hands-on exercises to help reinforce the material and to offer a way to connect the medical terms to real-life clinical applications. Admittedly, I also chanted, “Repetition is key, repetition is key, repetition is key” at the beginning and end of every class session. However, this strategy was only effective in my hybrid courses as I never met in the classroom with the online sections. Therefore, I searched the internet for free online medical terminology games and websites as a way to try to engage both the hybrid and the online students.

Throughout the semesters, however, the pattern remained the same. Many students were simply memorizing the terms adequately enough to take the quiz and then move on to the next assignment’s vocabulary. Moreover, those fun, interactive games that I found for free on the internet were not paid attention to because they were not for a grade. As a result, medical terminology was a high enrollment, high fail course and the college’s health department chairperson sought a way to increase students’ interaction with the course material and content, increase students’ learning of the medical language, and decrease the percentage of students who fail the medical terminology course.

Online Learning Pilot

Young women using online learning technology on a computerInsert MyMedicalTerminologyLab. I was asked to pilot this online learning tool in two of my hybrid course sections during the 2014 fall semester. We chose to integrate it into my medical terminology courses as a way to engage students, offer interactive learning tools, and increase their interaction with the course content. Because I was new to this online learning tool, I was brutally honest with my students that semester and stressed that this would be a learning experience for all of us–as far as the technology went. I encouraged my students to openly share all of their experiences with the online assignments and to give honest feedback so that the college could make an informed decision about whether or not to continue using the product in the upcoming semesters.

The majority of the students’ feedback in the pilot courses was positive and the statistical evidence of the product’s efficacy in the pilot courses are documented in the case study. I must point out, however, that I did not need to wait on statistical evidence to confirm that the product had made a positive difference. The impact was immediately evident. I noticed a greater number of students actively participating in the in-class activities. I also noticed a greater number of students responding confidently with the correct term or definition. Overall, I quickly sensed a greater degree of student engagement and content comprehension which, in turn, reflected in exam scores.

As a practicing healthcare professional, I have high expectations for any student wishing to enter the medical field. I hold all of my students to high standards, including those students who are just beginning their healthcare journey and are required to learn the language of the medical field in just sixteen short weeks (one semester). As I tell my students on the first day of class, “Making a profession in healthcare is not only about what you know, it is about how you treat your patients.” Therefore, I want to make sure that all of my students thoroughly comprehend the medical language so that they can correctly treat their patients. Zane State College did not select the MyMedicalTerminologyLab online learning product merely because we wanted more students to pass the medical terminology course, rather, we wanted to present the course content in a way that would be engaging and interesting for students to learn. Medical terminology is the basis upon which all other health education courses are built, therefore, it is important to give the students a strong foundation to build upon.


About the Author

Kelli Wehr is an ARRT registered radiation therapist, a profession she has enjoyed for thirteen years. She has been an adjunct health education instructor with Zane State College for three years. She is also active in many community activities and will soon graduate with her Master of Science Degree in Health Informatics.