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Clinical Terminology

When I began translating for the healthcare industry, one of my first challenges was abbreviations. Not only does the meaning of some abbreviations vary based on the type of sector, but the meanings may differ within the same sector. Context is often the key to decode them. For example, DOA has dozens of meanings, including:

  • Dead on arrival

  • Date of application

  • Dead or alive

  • Date of access

Within the healthcare sector, DOA could mean:

  • Drug of abuse

  • Duration of action

  • Degree of actuation

  • Dominant optic atrophy

These examples are not exhaustive. There are many other definitions for DOA.

When the context is not enough to guess the correct meaning, I'll ask the client. Hospitals often have their own lists of approved medical abbreviations.

Abbreviations are commonly used in medicine. Nonetheless, the advantages of brevity and efficiency must be weighed against the possibilities of confusion and ambiguity. That's why there are also lists of abbreviations to be avoided.

In general, there are two types of abbreviations:

  • Acronyms, which are pronounced as words (e.g., AIDS)

  • Initialisms, which are pronounced one letter at a time (e.g., HIV)

When you work with technical texts, you'll likely look resources up and consult experts to find the right answers. Since that is often time-consuming, I had to look for ways to become more efficient. My conclusion was that I had to learn more about medical terminology.

That's how I found an online course called Clinical Terminology for International and US Students. The University of Pittsburgh teaches it on Coursera. Like many other Coursera materials, access is free. However, you need to pay to be graded and to earn the certificate of completion.

This course also teaches how to decode complex clinical terms, thanks to a list of medical roots, suffixes, and prefixes. Other topics discussed include:

  • Diseases of the body

  • Laboratory tests

  • Diagnostic procedures

As a translator, you're only as good as the resources you have. While the Internet has plenty of valuable information, you'll likely come across unreliable data as well. Thanks to Blue Urpi's webinar on medical resources, I learned what to trust, how to find what I need, and to save time when I do my online research!

If you need a medical translator, feel free to reach out to discuss your needs:

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