Medical Assistant Terminology to Know

Healthcare facilities cannot run without medical assistants. As a medical assistant, you will spend a lot of time with patients performing clinical care.  Sometimes you will be working at the front desk handling billing and administrative duties.

These responsibilities demand that you learn the rules, regulations, and the language of medics that more often look like nothing but codes. Fortunately, you do not have to earn all that in one sitting.

Milwaukee Career College is here to guide you on your path to becoming a medical assistant. With our hands-on learning approach, we ensure you have a good mastery of the medical assistant terminology and more.

In this article, we will explore some of the medical assistant terminologies you should know. Mastering them will enhance your skills as a medical assistant. But we will begin with a refresher explanation of something you may have learned in your language lessons at elementary school.

Terms Needed for Medical Assistants

Do you remember being taught about prefixes, suffixes, and root words? That is where we begin. As you can see, not everything about your medical assistant course will leave you scratching your head. You will be surprised to find many things that you may already know.

Medical terms are usually written as codes that could be a prefix, suffix, or root word. The root word is the part of a word that can be used to form other words.

A prefix is a group of letters placed before a word to alter its meaning, while a suffix is a group of letters placed after a word to change its meaning.  Let us see how they apply in medical assistant terminologies.

Root Words

A root word is a short form of a word that can stand on its own and hold a fundamental meaning. A medical term can be made up of one or several root words.  It can also have a root word and a prefix of suffix in any combination. Here are some root words that medics use as codes and their meanings:

Root Word Meaning

  • Cepahl/o = head
  • Derm = skin
  • My /o = muscle
  • Oste/o = bone
  • Pulm/o = lungs
  • Thromb/o = clot


A prefix is the group of letters you put before a complete word to form another word. You may alter the meaning of a word by placing different prefixes before it. For instance, you can use the prefixes ‘pre’ and ‘post’ on the same word to imply before and after, such as pre-natal and post-natal. Here are some common prefixes you may use as a medical assistant:

Prefix Meaning

  • Ante = before
  • End/o = within
  • Peri = surrounding
  • Post = after
  • Trans = through
  • Supra = above


These are groups of letters placed after a word to form a new word with a different meaning from the root word. The suffix may also be a complete word. For instance, you can put the word ‘less’ after the word pain to form a new word painless. Let us show you the common suffixes that medics use.

Suffix Meaning

  • algia =  pain
  • desis = fusion/binding
  • emia = blood
  • plasty = reconstruction/repair/plastic
  • sclerosis = hardening
  • uria = urine/urination

Now that you understand root words, prefixes, and suffixes, you will find it easy to figure out the meaning of medical assistant terminologies. For example, if you come across the term rhinorrhea, you can get its meaning by breaking it into the root word, rhino, meaning nose, and rrhea, meaning discharge or flow.

This way, you will know that the word stands for nasal discharge. We can illustrate this as:

Root word+ suffix

Rhino (nose) + rrhea (discharge) =Rhinorrhea (nasal discharge)

You will encounter words that combine root words, prefixes, and suffixes in different orders.  An example is the word cardiomyopathy. To know what it means, break it down to cardio, a root word meaning heart, myo, a prefix meaning muscle, and pathy, a suffix meaning disease. You can therefore see that the terminology stands for heart muscle disease, as illustrated below:

Prefix+ root word+ suffix

Cardio (heart) +myo (muscle) +pathy (disease) =cardiomyopathy=heart muscle disease

Since you will be dealing with hundreds of codes, a medical dictionary will help you avoid confusing them. Remember medical information should be accurate since a mix-up can be disastrous. Ensure you always get the codes correctly.

Anatomical Planes and Positions


When this terminology is used, it shows whatever is being referred to is close to the body surface.


This indicates that what is being talked about is towards the back of your body.


This terminology is used to indicate towards the side of the human body.


It indicates that something is away from the point of reference or attachment.


It used to mean close to the center of an organ or body.


Refers to what is towards the front part of your body.


5 Body Membranes

Medics, including medical assistants, must understand the 5 types of membranes that make up the human body. Your membranes line your internal organs and body openings. Doctors use these membranes when designating diagnosis codes. They include:

Cutaneous Membrane

This refers to the skin, which happens to be the biggest organ in your body. It lines the entire body, protecting all the other organs in your body and regulating your body temperature.


This is a network of 3 membranes that line the brain and spinal cord to form a protective layer for these organs.

Mucous Membrane

They are the protective layers that line your internal organs and body openings. They include the lining of the digestive, urinary, respiratory, digestive, and reproductive systems. They also line the tubes in your body openings like your anal and nasal tubes.

Serous Membrane

They line your body cavities and internal organs such as the heart and lungs.

Synovial Membrane

These membranes line your joint cavities and provide the lubricating fluid that helps your joints to more smoothly. You experience joint pains when these membranes are damaged.

Your ability to identify, define and specify medical codes and terminologies will influence your success as a medical assistant student and worker. This will determine your accuracy in interpreting diagnosis. With time, they will become a part of your day-to-day activities, and you will decode them effortlessly.

Join Milwaukee Career College’s medical assistant program, and you will have an easy time mastering your medical assistant codes and terminologies. We also admit dental, veterinary, and medical students. With our training, you will acquire skills that work.


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