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Learn medical terms the easy way

When I was in high school, I joined a “magnet school” for kids who wanted to go into the medical field. One of the first things that they taught us there was medical terminology. It wasn’t easy to learn what things like “subcutaneous” meant at that time because they were words that we all hardly ever used day-to-day. To make matters harder, a lot of us spoke English as a second language, so these words were even more foreign, even if most of the words were based in Latin and sounded a lot like Spanish.

I remember very clearly how I learned what the suffix “-itis” meant. They showed us a cartoon of a teacher holding tests in her hands and saying, “I test.” What she was saying sounded a lot like -itis, so the narrator of the cartoon said, “Now imagine your teacher in flames.” The cartoon then showed the teacher holding the tests and being covered in flames. From that image of her, I never forgot that -itis is the suffix for “inflammation.” So it amazes me that so many people add -itis to the end of words to mean that it’s a disease, like “freshmanitis” for suffering from being a freshman when it really means an inflammation of the freshman.

The suffix for “having a condition” or “suffering from a condition” is “-osis.” The way I learned that was from a cartoon where a little boy drops an air conditioner on his sister and screams, “Oh, sis!” Get it? We went from “Oh, sis!” to “-osis” to the image of the air “conditioner” on the sister. Thus, I associated the suffix with “a condition.” This went on for weeks, and I learned a lot because of that visual style of teaching us those words.

Of course, not everyone is a visual learner, but visualization and repetition are pretty good ways of learning for most of us.

melanoma cartoon

Some things are more complicated than others. (Comic cartoon via Jorge Muniz at

The other day, my wife pointed out to me this Kickstarter campaign created by a physician assistant who aim to use his cartoon skills to help students in all medical fields learn about medical conditions. Kickstarter is an online platform for innovators and entrepreneurs to showcase their products and get financial backing straight from the public. (There are some risks associated with some projects, especially the ones that sound too good to be true, so do your due diligence before supporting this or any other project.)

Here’s the link to the Kickstarter page:

As you can see, he uses his excellent cartoon skills and humor to teach some not-so-simple medical terms and even “dives” into explaining infectious disease. I hope you find it in your heart, and wallet, to support this project. I know I will.

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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.

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