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The trouble with terminology

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'Nurse training' is a popular phrase. You might be wondering what is wrong with it, but a look in a dictionary might clarify my objection:

'Teach (a person or animal) a particular skill or type of behavior through practice and instruction over a period of time.'

Training can therefore be said to involve no individual thought – from my first day as an healthcare assistant before university I was encouraged to think for myself, and not to do things by rote. Why must things be done to the ward's timetable and not to the patient's own preferences? Tradition and unthinking ritualistic behaviour are still powerful forces in practice, but my generation of student nurses are more questioning and less accepting of this - so hopefully practise will change for the better.

I was once give advice to write ‘acopia’ in preference for ‘not coping’, and I really cannot see why - it seems to be simply making up jargon for the sake of it. I can only find a couple of journal articles that appear to be in favour of acopia’s use, some authors explain how adding the prefix a- to a ‘Latinised’ form of cope made a word to fit a situation where "a single, succinct medical word does not exist", advocating use of ‘Greek’ and ‘Latin’ terms, along with abbreviations and acronyms because they are more correct and succinct.

While I can understand succinctness as a reason for many terms, for simple accuracy CPR is no more correct than cardiopulmonary resuscitation, nocte is no more correct than night, and acopia is no more correct, or hardly any more succinct than ‘not coping’. This is especially true if one has to spend time explaining what it means. Acopia is the name of a town in Peru and the name of a company, but it is not a scientific term.

Then there is the idea of what term we use for the people in our care. To some, 'patient' has connotations of a passive participant in healthcare. But the oft-cited alternatives seem no better – user hardly seems appropriate, with a definite meaning of one who simply makes use of a service, while client and consumer may simply refer to someone purchasing assistance.

None of the options carry the desired meaning of active participant, and do not embody the empathy and trust implicit in the healthcare relationship. It would be better to challenge and change the perceived meaning of the word patient to define an active participant, not a passive one, and definitely not just a customer to be served and then forgotten.

On the other hand, I have seen 'baloney amputation' written in patients notes.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • I could not agree with you more. I am a third year nursing student. I am still finding it difficult to get used to the terminology used in hospital. Surely they can make things simpler by using English terms rather than Latin or Greek. I am just living in the hope that one day I will be able to master it. We will see how it goes

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  • i agree totally with your thoughts. i started my nursin training in october and havr found it hard already, it takes a special kind of person to enter nursing and qualify knowing that they are then able to care for others without having as many people breathing down their necks. i am going to go into the learning disability branch this year, and as excited as i am about it, i stil feel it is a brance that people know very little about. i worked very hard to get the grades for a diploma in nursing and i am considering studying at degree level in my final year. nursing is a tough job for anybody who enter it, and it should not be known as the definition from the dictionary..

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  • I also agree that the terminology used by the medical profession can make nurse training difficult. It is equivalent to learning a new language, and as I am half way through my second year I am also struggling to understand the other languages we have to learn, these are academic and research language. this is hard enough with English being a first language, if English is your second language you have all my sympathy.

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