Background: Medical students and practitioners learn and use a vocabulary originating almost entirely from classical Latin and Greek languages. Previous generations required Latin or Greek prior to medical school, but the current generation does not have such requirements. Anecdotal evidence suggests that understanding Latin or Greek helps students to learn and practitioners to recall otherwise foreign terminology. This study evaluated students' familiarity with Latin and Greek etymologies before and after a gross anatomy course that incorporated etymologies into its curriculum. Methods: First-year medical students at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine were taught Latin and Greek etymologies through lectures and handouts during their gross anatomy course. They took a pretest and a posttest before and after the course to assess their understanding of etymologies. In addition, students from all four years of medical school, residents, and staff physicians also took a general etymology quiz to assess their understanding of etymologies. Results: After their gross anatomy course emphasizing etymologies, first-year students scored higher on the posttest than they did on the pretest. First-year students also reported that learning etymologies enhanced anatomy learning, made the experience more enjoyable, and proved to be less difficult than they thought it would be prior to the course. Medical students, residents, and staff physicians scored almost equally on the general etymology quiz and almost equally reported that etymologies enhanced learning and recalling terminology. Medical students, residents, and staff physicians almost equally endorsed incorporating etymologies into medical education. Conclusions: This study provides novel scientific evidence that a basic understanding of Latin and Greek etymologies enhances performance and comfort when learning and using medical terminology.
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