DMU course attracts lingo learners, jargon junkies from around the world


If you Google “medical terminology,” the first non-advertising links that pop up will take you to DMU’s free online course. It’s by far the most popular page on the University website, receiving more than 200,000 page views per month from people around the world. Over the past year, the course has accounted for approximately half of the traffic to the DMU site.

The popular program got started back in the 1990s, when then-DMU institutional research coordinator Dennis Bates, Ph.D., convinced William Dyche, Ph.D., professor of anatomy, to offer lunch-and-learn sessions on medical terminology to University employees. When they had exhausted that internal audience, Bates encouraged Dyche to offer the course on a broader scale.

“He kept bugging me, but I resisted because it sounded like a lot of work, and it was,” Dyche says, chuckling.

He prefers to credit others for the course’s evolution. They include Jane Turpin, DMU’s first web administrator, who converted his materials for the course to web pages, and Seth Stevenson, current web developer, for making the course’s format consistent with the rest of the University’s website. Dyche also praises current “maintainer” of the course, Donald Matz, Ph.D., chair of the anatomy department.

However, Dyche is clearly at the center of its success. “I do take professional pride in the course,” he acknowledges. “If something has my name on it, I want it to be good.”

In addition to creating the tutorials and quizzes, he added links to University and external websites to give users additional resources. He combed through the site every weekend, checking all those links to make sure they functioned. For any that didn’t, he looked for alternative sources and had Stevenson update the site.

While his “care and feeding” of the course has been diligent, Dyche made sure it maintained a friendly voice. It’s sprinkled with sentences like “Don’t get blown away by that big, intimidating word!”; “Anxious to find out what those big words your doctor tells you about with that worried look on his face?” and “Jargon is not unique to professions. Have you ever tried to understand two teenagers talking to each other?”

“I tried to make it conversational,” Dyche explains. “The course has always been intended for the general public. It’s so people could ask better questions of their physicians and understand more when they go on medical websites or read in the newspaper about new drugs. I’ve also gotten responses from people like, ‘I even enjoy watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ more.’”

Fans of the popular ABC medical drama are not the only ones taking the DMU course, which also is available at iTunes U. They include students, teachers, personal injury attorneys and paralegals, insurance company staff, medical interpreters and people seeking documentation they’ve completed a course on medical terminology. That led Vanessa Ross, CMP, CCMEP, who became DMU’s manager of continuing medical education (CME) in 2010, to propose offering course-takers a certificate of participation for 1.75 contact hours for a modest fee. Its $75 cost is small change compared with many other such courses.

Since DMU began offering the certificate in February 2012, the course has attracted more than 1,300 paying participants from the United States, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Europe, Pakistan and the Philippines, among other countries.

Did you know the Fallopian tubes are named after Gabriello Fallopio, a 16th-century Italian anatomist, and that ‘placenta’ means ‘flat cake’ in Greek?
You would if you took DMU’s medical terminology course.

“It has not been easy to find a med term certificate program – classes, yes – but our recruitment department does not consider even a full-fledged college course to be the equivalent of a ‘certificate,’” commented a career counselor with Kaiser Permanente in California. “So when I saw that you now offer a certificate, I was quite excited.”

Last fall, DMU expanded the course once again by offering a Spanish version, also with a $75 certificate option. Ross and her administrative assistant, Holly
DeJong, located a translator to plow through every page and pop-up for the course.

“Offering the course in Spanish aligns with DMU’s mission of preparing culturally competent medical professionals and our value of diversity,” Ross says. “It also fits with the mission of CME of providing lifelong learning opportunities.”

While Dyche has relinquished day-to-day management of the terminology course, he enjoys the impact it continues to have.

“I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, especially when I get feedback. I’ve heard from people around the world,” he says. “When my daughter, Lianne, was in a medical assistant program in Oregon, that’s the terminology course they used. The instructor didn’t believe her at first when she said, ‘Oh, that’s my dad.’ I think of the course as my personal legacy to the University.”

Visit the online medical terminology course at

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