Inside Doctoring: Stages and Outcomes in the Professional Development of Physicians

By Robert H. Coombs; D. Scott May et al. | Go to book overview

Calling a Spade a Terrestrial Excavation Implement

Marc Ringel

A new medical journal, among the several dozen free ones I receive every month, purports to tell us physicians how to market our practices. One of their recommendations to keep us looking marketably up to date is to have new-appearing medical books displayed in our offices. I'm glad to say that I do. I even look at those books now and then.

One book which is not up to date is my Steadman's Medical Dictionary. I bought it in 1970, when I started medical school. Though I hardly use it now, it was the most important book I owned as a medical student.

Medical language is a world unto itself. Its long words and the acronyms that sometimes stand in their stead may encode whole universes of important meaning in a terse shorthand. T.E.N.S., I.T.P., and A.I.D.S. say a lot to a fluent speaker. This form of communication is also capable of producing remarkably long, obfuscating ways of saying simple things. An idiopathic erythematous exanthem of the axilla is merely a red rash of the armpit, cause unknown. Epistaxis secondary to digital trauma is a bloody nose from picking it.

Medical language, a clumsy combination of Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes mingled with archaic English and seasoned with German and French, probably serves more to inhibit good communication between physicians and the lay public than any other single factor. Have you ever noticed how doctors interviewed on talk and news shows "visualize" rather than "see," talk about "tympanic membranes" rather than "ear drums," feel "induration" rather than a "lump," probe the "superior aspect of the glabella" rather than the "upper surface of the forehead" where they may

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