Medical jargon and understandability

Not long ago, my (non-medical) fiance Luke pointed out, over the years since I’ve been in medical school, that my conversations with my med school friends have become more and more incoherent from his perspective. This isn’t really surprising, considering the huge amount of vocabulary that gets taught, especially within the first 2 years. Like many technical fields, a big part of medicine is learning to speak the language. What sets medicine apart from other jargon-heavy professions, however, is that doctors spend the majority of their time speaking with laypeople who are unfamiliar with that vast vocabulary that we’ve spent years building. The beginning of 3rd year was a bit of culture shock for me, after spending the first 2 years locked away in a lecture hall, when I realized that I had to learn how to communicate effectively with my patients (few of whom had any great measure of health literacy or any sort of higher education). When I first started med school, I thought that learning all the vocabulary in the first place would be the challenge. Now, I’m finding that explaining what I know in simple terms is much harder. Some words and phrases have become so natural to me that I’ve lost sight of whether or not they’re considered “normal” words that most people are familiar with.

For those of you that are working in/studying in similarly technical fields, have you found jargon creeping into your everyday speech? If so, do you struggle to communicate with those outside your field?

5 thoughts on “Medical jargon and understandability

  1. I understand where you are coming from. I’ve never been a med student, however, I did attend the Health Technology program for 2 years in high school. First time we studied to pass our State Tested Nurse Aid exam and the second time we studied to pass the Patient Care Assistant. The thing I loved most from these programs was the medical terminology. I always aced my terminology tests. We had to learn how to use the medical language. However, when we went out for clinicals, we used the lingo but we always had questions like “what does this mean?” Makes you even wonder why you had to learn all the medical words. I guess to speak with your coworkers and what not.

  2. I’m one of those oddballs who has no problems with medical jargon, but instead asks about the non-medical expressions (my Romanian vocabulary is very very poor). I always seem to shock the doctors when I nod at their medical terms, and then ask about a word that has nothing to do with medicine. :P

    Love the graph though, haha. :D

  3. The comic’s funny! Although not in the medical field, computer jargon from me tends to trip people up (or just jargon from the art industry). But most of the jargon from my field is picked up from conversations from fellow people in the industry and some of it were from lecture halls, Art History lectures.

    I bought a medical dictionary on whim a few years ago and the terminologies in there are baffling! I do admire those in the medical field who are able to remember and understand each and every one of those terms! In terms of the general public though…I understand the frustration – sometimes you wonder whether they even graduated high school!

  4. I go to a school where everyone majors in math, science, or engineering, and where everyone takes the same math and physics classes their first year. So everyone uses the terms “a linear combination of”, “n+1″, “delta + epsilon”, and some other mathematical jargon in everyday lives to refer to non-mathematical things. I dunno how incomprehensible our speech was because mathematical terms sound much more “normal” than medical jargon.

    I study control theory in grad school. People in control theory have the luxury of not needing to interact with non-engineers/mathematicians most of the time, because when our products are working, the customers should never need to think about control theory. So we use technical terms all the time, which sound only as bad as the mathematical terms above, and I have no idea how to explain concepts from control theory to a non-engineer without going into math proofs… I probably should work on that!

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