The topic of correct spelling—and the consequences of incorrectly spelled terms—was brought to mind recently with the news story about a student on the TV game show Jeopardy! whose answer was disqualified because it was misspelled. A lot of folks were angry, as though the boy was cheated, but the producers calmly pointed out that it’s not an acceptable answer if it’s not spelled correctly. Like Scrabble or Words with Friends, Jeopardy! is a game with rules, after all.
But the A&P course is not “just a game.” It is the foundation for many health professions. Professions where misspellings can be the basis for life-threatening medical errors.
A few years ago, I called our attention to Doing our part to reduce medical errors by enforcing accuracy in our courses—including correct spelling of scientific and medical terms.
Here’s what I tell my own students:
“That's part of learning how to communicate accurately and professionally. For those of you going into patient care or managing patient records, accuracy can affect a person's life . . . so it's best to learn that lesson here and now—where no one's life is in danger.”There really IS a difference between perineum and peritoneum. Just two letters, and the whole meaning of a sentence or paragraph—or medical record—is changed. It may still make sense, even in context, but is now wrong.
Some of my students counter that current software platforms used in hospitals and clinics have safety features that autocorrect or call attention to potential errors. That’s true—to some extent. But just like the autocorrect features found in word processing software, they cannot be relied upon entirely. We really must know which term is which by its correct spelling.
Now’s a good time to think about how we are preparing our students for their profession. I want my healthcare providers to get it right. So let’s make that happen!