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Terminology is Key to Preparing for the IBCLC Exam

Woman holding book full of terminology.

Years ago, an IBCLC candidate told me, “Marie, this stuff is all like speaking Greek!” What a great observation! I thought. This stuff really does seem pretty foreign at first. That’s a great starting point for talking about how learning terminology is key.

Let’s consider: If you were booked for a trip to Greece, what would be one of the first things you’d want to do? Learn Greek, right?

Unquestionably, once you are booked for the IBCLC exam, one of the first things you should want to do is to learn the language of the exam – that is, to learn the terminology.

Although many of us tend to use the words “vocabulary” and “terminology” interchangeably, they are a little different. Vocabulary refers to words that we use in our everyday speaking and writing. Terminology is vocabulary specifically associated with a certain field of study, profession, or activity.

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re in a field of study, a profession, or an activity related to health care. That means you need to know the terminology. (And – circling back around to the candidate’s thoughts about Greek – more than 90% of medical terminology is derived from Greek or Latin!)

Here are just a few reasons why learning the correct terminology is important.

It helps you on a comprehensive exam!

When taking the NCLEX exam to get my nursing license, I bumped into a word I didn’t know: gastroschisis. I couldn’t answer the question on the exam because I didn’t have any idea of its definition. Was it a respiratory ailment? A bump on the head? A hormonal problem? I had no idea.

I quickly realized that if I had known the meaning of the word gastroschisis, I might have had a chance of answering the question correctly. But, at that time, I didn’t have the remotest clue what it meant. Sigh …

It helps you when reading new information

Studies that look at elementary school children’s vocabulary repeatedly show that those with a smaller vocabulary have more trouble with reading comprehension.

In fact, elementary teachers give young students the “five-finger rule.” If they count five unfamiliar words on a page, they need to look up words. They are not grasping the message of what they’re trying to read.

Presuming that you are committed to evidence-based practice, you’ll be reading and diving into some health care books and journals. That means you’ll need a strong mastery of terminology.

Research suggests that simply reading a word in context is rarely helpful for gaining an understanding of its full meaning. (And, we might assume, not helpful for using the word later.) So if you don’t know it, look it up.

It is a critical tool for communicating with colleagues

If you converse with a colleague, you expect them to speak your language, right? It would be tough to have a productive conversation if you were talking in English and they were responding in Greek.

The same is true when you are having a conversation about a health care issue. If you don’t know the definition, it will be hard to have a meaningful conversation. And documentation in the medical record is also a form of communication.

Terminology is easy to learn

Honest. It’s easy to learn terminology. When I bump into a word I don’t know, I look up the etymology. And, when I teach others, I love giving a brief snapshot of the Greek or Latin word that forms the basis for the terminology related to the concept I’m teaching. It just makes so much sense.

Download our free 1,000 terms sheet. It’s handy by itself, but you could also and make flashcards for yourself, or have someone quiz you to help you identify the terms you don’t know.

Whether you’re preparing for the IBCLC exam, reading a research article, documenting in a chart, or conversing with a client or colleague, it’s critical for you to master the terminology that’s common in your field.

How did you learn terminology related to lactation? Share this post with a friend who is preparing for the IBCLC exam!

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