Where I came from, “high yield” was something corn and soy farmers aimed for. I’d never heard the term applied to academics until August, when I heard some medical students discussing “high yield” ways to study. Once I figured out that they weren’t talking bean fields, I wondered why they didn’t say “efficient” ways to study, or maybe “good” ones. Turns out, “high yield” is a bit of medical student jargon, borrowed perhaps from a series of books like “High-Yield Embryology,” (which is a textbook, not a biography of Nadya Suleman).

I have a pet hypothesis that half of mastering any field or venture is learning its lingo. Medical school supports that idea. Much of my time is spent learning the special names that doctors call things. A heart attack’s not a heart attack but a myocardial infarction — or, to sound extra cool, an “MI.” The area between your colon and flanks is the “paracolic gutter.” The space between your eyelids is the “palpebral fissure.” Yes, it has a name. Anatomists name everything, partly so they can name things after themselves — like the annulus of Zinn, a round tendon in the eye that you should not confuse with the nearby zonule of Zinn.

This complexity has its good points. Naming every little thing allows precision. If your arm aches, a bevy of different muscles, nerves, ligaments, bones or joints might be hurt. You want to precisely locate the problem to ensure you get the right treatment. When I slipped on mud this spring and hurt my wrist, my primary care doctor worried about the scaphoid, a tiny bone with poor blood supply that usually needs surgery to mend well. X-rays showed I had a different injury: a fractured radius, a.k.a. Colle’s fracture, a.k.a. a “broken arm.” My doc set that in his clinic and I didn’t need fancy rehab. It was all one big pain in the wrist to me, but I’m glad he knew the difference.

But I’m not convinced medical argot is entirely helpful. If you had to look up “argot,” you know why. Precision’s great, but so is clarity, particularly when you want to communicate with normal humans, not other doctors. And telling someone they’re suffering an acute MI is probably going to make much less sense than saying they’re having a heart attack. Now that medical charts are open for patients to read, clarity will be as important in writing as in speech. Wouldn’t it be annoying to get doctors to trade bad handwriting for typing and still be unable to decipher what they write?

I’ve certainly had trouble understanding doctors, both as a patient and now as a student. So my big challenge is to learn this new language and all these fancy names and terms. And then, when I’m a doctor, to try really hard not to use them. Except when the yield is high.

*Ankyloglossia is the official doctor way to say “tongue-tied.”

One response to “Ankyloglossia

  1. “Wouldn’t it be annoying to get doctors to trade bad handwriting for typing and still be unable to decipher what they write?”

    A recent review of a patient’s medical records as collateral for mental health intake/evaluation made me think that typing should become mandatory even if spelling and grammar may present a challenge to diagnoses and / or prognoses.

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