Saying What We Mean: How Medical Language Conceals and Reveals

Wednesday, April 24, 2024
12-1pm (EST) Leonard Sandridge Auditorium (McKim Hall)

Saying What We Mean: How Medical Language Reveals and Conceals


Anna DeForest, MD, MFA

Neurologist & Supportive Care Physician, Memorial Sloan Kettering

Cancer Center, New York City


Benjamin J Martin, MD, Moderator

Assistant Director, Programs in Health Humanities

Assistant Professor, Internal Medicine Section Hospital Medicine, UVA


Problems in language create a gulf between medical providers and patients, affecting relationship-building, medical understanding, therapeutic adherence and health outcomes. Physicians pride themselves on scientific rigor, but tend to overlook the complex subjectivities that impact patient wellbeing as much as, or more so than, cell biology, biochemistry or pharmacology. By examining the relationship between language and other cognitive processes, we build a deeper respect for the impact of the words we use, not just when we are speaking to patients, but in our discourse with each other, and even in the reasoning we perform alone in our heads.

An examination of medical language including consideration of syntax, etymology and rhetorical forms provides a useful taxonomy for the strangeness of medical speech: from jargon to euphemism, passive voice to circumlocution, the commonalities of medical phrasing can reveal to us our weaknesses, biases and unmet needs. This will be an interactive session on the uses and harms of habitual medical language, and an invitation to self-examination through the lens of the words we use in practice every day.

Lunch will be provided for the first 40 in-person attendees

Medical Center Hour is free of charge and open to the publicFor more information, see the attached announcement, and Center for Health Humanities and Ethics:

Watch Medical Center Hour recordings at