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Medical School Terminology and Jargon You Should Know

June 6, 2022
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Terms Premed Students Should LearnMedical Jargon You Should KnowFinal Thoughts


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 6/6/22

Looking to brush up on your medical terminology? Read on for a complete list of medical jargon you should know as a premed or medical student. 

As a premed student, your medical school research can get pretty confusing. Many important websites and articles are packed with medical jargon that can be alienating to incoming med students. If you are thinking about going to medical school, there are some terms you should familiarize yourself with.

Let’s go over all the basic terms you should know as a premed or medical student. We’ll explain terms for institutions, tests, types of medical schools, and more confusing jargon to make your transition into med school easier going forward. Let’s get started!

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Terms Premed Students Should Learn

Here we’ll go over a list of terms premed students should know before entering medical school. We have included terms related to medical schools years, tests, helpful organizations, application services, and types of medical schools.

Medical School Years

Below are terms that refer to doctors in different stages of the training process, all the way from the beginning to the end.

Pre Medical or Premed: A pre-medical student is an undergraduate student taking prerequisite courses to later attend medical school. 

MS1-4: This stands for “medical student” (MS) and the number of years they have attended medical school.

Resident: A medical school graduate who is in a residency program training to become a doctor.

Intern: Term for a first year medical resident.

PGY1-7: This stands for “Post-Graduate Year” (PGY) followed by the number of years a resident has been training in their residency program.

Sub-I: Sub-Internship. An audition rotation during your last two years of medical school. 

Junior Resident: A resident who has completed less than half of their residency program.

Senior Resident: A resident who has completed more than half of their residency program.

Chief Resident: A resident in their final year of residency who is the appointed leader of a group of residents. Chief residents supervise clinical duties, administrative functions, and more. Their responsibilities are appointed by program directors or senior physicians.

Fellow: A medical fellow is a doctor who has completed residency and is now sub-specializing through a fellowship program.

Attending Physician: An attending physician is a board certified doctor who has completed medical school and residency and is practicing medicine in a hospital or clinic. Attending physicians typically play a role in educating and supervising residents, students and fellows. 

Senior Doctor: A doctor with years of experience who has the authority to oversee multiple projects and patients.

Specialist Physician: A doctor who specializes in a particular area of medicine. Highly sought-after specialists are doctors who have completed a sub-specialty in a highly specific area of medicine through a fellowship program.

Medical School Organizations

Here we have listed important acronyms for medical school organizations you should know about as a future medical student.

AAMC: The Association of American Medical Colleges is a nonprofit association that provides medical news, research, education and healthcare in the U.S.

AMA: The American Medical Association is “the largest and only national association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders.” They represent physicians across the U.S. 

AMSA: American Medical Student Association is a global organization that aims to support medical students around the world with independent resources. 

AACOM: The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine represents all American osteopathic medical schools.

NBME: The National Board of Medical Examiners offers evaluation products and tools to assess American allopathic medical students, such as the USMLE and Shelf Exams.

Medical School Application Services

Below we have listed acronyms for the three most common application services for DO students, MD students, and residents. 

AMCAS: The American Medical College Application Service is the main U.S. allopathic medical school application service.

AACOMAS: The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service is used to apply to DO schools.

ERAS: The Electronic Residency Application Service (a.k.a “the Match”) is the main application service used to apply for medical residency.

Types of Medical Schools

There are two types of medical schools: Allopathic and Osteopathic. Both types of medical schools turn out capable doctors with the same residency and job opportunities. The main difference between the two is the method of teaching. 

Allopathic: An allopathic or “conventional” medical school trains doctors using  science-based curriculum focusing on diagnosing and treating patients. Graduates of allopathic medical schools are awarded with an M.D. degree.

Osteopathic: Osteopathic medicine follows the same scientific principles of allopathic medicine, with an added emphasis on holistic care and the body’s ability to heal itself. Graduates are awarded with a D.O. degree.

Medical School Tests

Here is a basic list of the types of examinations you will encounter throughout your medical school journey.

MCAT: The Medical College Admissions Test is a standardized, multiple choice examination that is typically required as part of your medical school application.

STEP exams: The United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) is divided into three steps, each of which are commonly referred to as “step” exams.

USMLE Step 1: The first of three United States Medical Licensing Exams taken after the second year of medical school.

USMLE Step 2: The second of three United States Medical Licensing Exams taken during the fourth year of medical school.

USMLE Step 3: The final step of the United States Medical Licensing Exams typically taken after the first year of residency. 

Pre-Clinical Subject Exams: NBME exam to assess knowledge and readiness to become a licensed physician, often held at the end of a course. Pre-clinical subject exams also include performance feedback reports.

Clinical or “Shelf” Exams: Examinations conducted during a third-year medical student’s clinical rotation to assess their application of learned knowledge.

Block Exams: Refers to a time period (typically a week) in which exams for different subjects are being tested every day.

Mid-Terms or “Colloquiums”: Mini tests taken throughout the semester, typically during scheduled class time.

MCQ’s: Multiple Choice Questions

Oral Exams: Examinations in which a student writes an essay to later answer a series of related questions in spoken form. 

OSCE’s: In an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (a.k.a “practical exam”) students are asked to demonstrate clinical skills and patient assessments on actors, real patients, or volunteers. 

Final Exams: Examinations in a variety of formats taken at the end of each course.

Board Exams: Independent examinations that play a role in determining your medical licensure, similar to USMLE Step exams.  

COMLEX Level Exams: The Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination is a three part exam for the medical licensure of DO students. These exams are the osteopathic equivalents to the USMLE Step exams. 

Other Med School Terms

Shadowing: Following a physician through their daily routine to observe their methods and responsibilities. 

Rounds or “Rounding”: To go around a hospital or clinic to check on patients. 

PIMP: Stands for “Put In My Place.” “Pimping” is a slang term that refers to an attending or senior resident asking medical students questions to test their knowledge.

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Medical Jargon You Should Know 

Here we’ll go over some medical terms to familiarize yourself with before medical school. Below we’ve included a list of popular medical school jargon as defined by St. George’s University. 

1. Abrasion: A cut or scrape that typically isn’t serious.

2. Abscess: A tender, fluid-filled pocket that forms in tissue, usually due to infection.

3. Acute: Signifies a condition that begins abruptly and is sometimes severe, but the duration is short. 

4. Benign: Not cancerous.

5. Biopsy: A small sample of tissue that’s taken for testing.

6. Chronic: Signifies a recurring, persistent condition like heart disease. 

7. Contusion: A bruise.

8. Defibrillator: A medical device that uses electric shocks to restore normal heartbeat.  

9. Edema: Swelling caused by fluid accumulation.  

10. Embolism: An arterial blockage, often caused by a blood clot.  

11. Epidermis: The outer layer of the skin. 

12. Fracture: Broken bone or cartilage. 

13. Gland: An organ or tissue that produces and secretes fluids that serve a specific function. 

14. Hypertension: High blood pressure. 

15. Inpatient: A patient who requires hospitalization. 

16. Intravenous: Indicates medication or fluid that’s delivered by vein. 

17. Malignant: Indicates the presence of cancerous cells. 

18. Outpatient: A patient who receives care without being admitted to a hospital. 

19. Prognosis: The predicated outcome of disease progression and treatment. 

20. Relapse: Return of disease or symptoms after a patient has recovered.  

21. Sutures: Stitches, which are used to join tissues together as they heal. 

22. Transplant: The removal of an organ or tissue from one body that is implanted into another. 

23. Vaccine: A substance that stimulates antibody production to provide immunity against disease. 

24. Zoonotic disease: A disease that is transmissible from animals to humans.  

Medical Prefixes and Suffixes

25. A-, an-: Lack of or without. 

26. -ation: Indicates a process. 

27. Dys-: Abnormal, difficult, or painful. 

28. -ectomy: Surgical removal of something. 

29. -ismus: Indicates a spasm or contraction. 

30. -itis: Signifies inflammation. 

31. -lysis: Decomposition, destruction, or breaking down. 

32. Macro-: Large in size. 

33. Melan/o-: Black or dark in color.  

34. Micro-: Small in size. 

35. -ology: The study of a particular concentration. 

36. -osis: Indicates something that is abnormal. 

37. -otomy: To cut into. 

38. -pathy: Disease or disease process. 

39. -plasty: Surgical repair. 

40. Poly-: Many. 

41. Pseudo-: False or deceptive, usually in regard to appearance. 

42. Retro-: Behind or backward. 

Medical Root Words

43. Cardi/o: Related to the heart. 

44. Derm/a/o; dermat/o: Pertaining to the skin. 

45. Encephal/o: Related to the brain.  

46. Gastr/o: Related to the stomach. 

47. Hemat/o: Pertaining to blood. 

48. My/o: Related to muscle. 

49. Oste/o: Related to bone. 

50. Pulmon/o: Refers to the lungs. 

51. Rhin/o: Related to the nose. 

52. Sclerosis: Hard or hardening. 

53. Stasis: Slowing or stopping the flow of a bodily fluid. 

54. Therm/o: Indicates heat. 

Medical Abbreviations And Acronyms

55. ALS: Advanced life support. 

56. Bl wk: Blood work. 

57. BMI: Body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight. 

58. BP: Blood pressure. 

59. CPR: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a life-saving technique that’s also called mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. 

60. C-spine: Cervical spine. 

62. DNR: Do not resuscitate, a medical order indicating providers should not perform CPR. 

63. ED/ER: Emergency department or emergency room. 

64. EKG: Electrocardiogram, a way of monitoring the heart and testing for problems. 

65. HDL-C: High-density lipoprotein cholesterol, often called “good” cholesterol. 

66. HR: Heart rate, expressed as beats per minute. 

67. LDL-C: Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, often called “bad” cholesterol. 

68. Lytes: Electrolytes. 

69. NICU: Neonatal intensive care unit, a specialized unit that cares for premature infants. 

70. OR: Operating room where surgeries are performed. 

71. Pre-op: Preoperative.  

72. Psych: Refers to psychiatry or the psychiatric ward. 

73. PT: Physical therapy, a type of treatment to help patients move and feel better. 

74. Rx: Prescription, usually for medication but can also signify another treatment. 

75. Stat: Immediately.”


Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions concerning medical school jargon and terminology.

1. What If I Don’t Understand A Medical Term My Professor Uses?

Misunderstanding medical terminology happens to everyone. Remember that you are a student, and you are here to learn. Don’t be ashamed to ask questions to our professor or peers. You can also make notes of terms you didn’t understand to research them later on. 

2. When Is It Appropriate To Ask A Professor To Clarify Something In Medical School?

Most professors will open up the floor for questions at different points during a lecture or demonstration. If you have questions that you feel can only be answered by a specific professor, you can make an appointment and visit them during their office hours.

3. How Often Can I Ask Questions In Medical School?

You can ask questions during a professor’s office hours or in classes. Although you may have a lot of questions, be sure to wait for appropriate times to ask them to not interrupt or distract other students. 

4. How Can I Prepare For Medical School Culture As A Premed?

Medical school podcasts, interview videos, and articles are great resources to help premeds understand med school culture. 

5. What Is A Good Tip For New Medical Students Or Premeds?

Plan your premed requirement courses and extracurriculars well. Make sure you’ve allocated enough time for yourself to get in all of the valuable experience you need for your medical school application.

Final Thoughts

While you won’t be expected to understand every bit of medical jargon you hear right away, it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with common acronyms and terms. Beginning medical school can be alienating as a first year student, so it may be comforting to do some research on the culture you’ll be entering into.

Some other ways to integrate yourself into medical school culture include listening to medical school podcasts, joining clubs, and learning more about what your program has to offer. If you’re ever confused about an unfamiliar term, don’t be afraid to ask questions to your academic advisors, peers, or professors. 

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