40 English for Hospital Staff Terms and Phrases to Learn STAT

Do you work at a hospital or doctor’s office?

Do you often need to speak English with patients?

Then this guide to English for hospital staff is just what the doctor ordered.

We’ll give you a handy glossary of 40 medical English terms and phrases to help you understand and communicate with patients and other hospital staff. Then we’ll provide the best online resources to improve and practice hospital staff English.


1. Common Symptoms and Ailments

Doctor talking to a patient

Here are some of the more common symptoms (problems with the body that are evidence of an illness or disease) and complaints you may hear from patients.


As a verb, “to cough” means to breath out forcefully with a loud noise. Patients need to do this when their throat hurts or itches.

You should always cover your mouth when you cough.

As a noun, “a cough” can refer to a single instance of coughing.

That was the loudest cough I’ve ever heard!

“A cough” can also refer to incessant coughing that the patient has developed.

She has a terrible cough and we aren’t sure what’s causing it.


You have a fever when your body temperature is hotter than normal. A fever is typically considered any body temperature above 37 degrees Celsius or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

He arrived at the emergency room with a fever of 102 degrees.


This is a broad term that can refer to any pain in the head.

She has a severe headache and needs to take some ibuprofen.


Similar to “headache,” a backache refers to any pain in the back.

He tried to lift the table by himself and now he has a backache.


An uncomfortable feeling that an area of your skin needs to be scratched.

She was covered in mosquito bites and they were very itchy. She couldn’t stop scratching her ankles.


A red area on someone’s skin. Patients often complain that the rash area is itchy.

My baby has a rash on his legs and won’t stop scratching it.


A fracture is a break or crack, usually in a bone. The general English term for a bone fracture is a “broken bone.”

There are many different types of fractures, depending on the type of injury someone has.

The patient’s arm is in severe pain after a skiing accident. We suspect she may have a fracture.


Temporary confusion or unconsciousness caused by a hard hit to the head.

He got a concussion during the match when the football hit him  right in the head.


An infection occurs when tiny organisms invade a part of the body, often causing painful symptoms and sickness.

She has an ear infection and it’s very painful.


Tiny, organic substances that attack the body’s cells and can make someone sick.

English speakers also use the word “virus” to refer to a sickness that was caused by viruses.

The doctor said that the boy’s fever was a result of a virus. He advised the boy to drink plenty of liquids and told him the virus should go away in a few days.


To eject food from your stomach after you ate it.

After she started to vomit, she realized the food she ate for lunch was expired.


If you feel nauseous that means you’re feeling sick to your stomach, like you may vomit soon.

He felt nauseous after the long drive.


As a medical term, this isn’t referring to temperature. “A cold” is a general term that refers to an unpleasant but not-very-serious illness.

“Catch a cold” is a very common English phrase that refers to the process of developing a cold.

I caught a cold last winter and I’ll probably catch a cold this winter, too.

Runny nose

When liquid drips from your nose or keeps your nose stuffed so you can’t breathe easily.

My son caught a cold. He has a runny nose and a cough.


A disease caused by abnormal cells that are spreading rapidly in the body.

His grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer.


A blue or purple area of the skin, typically caused by a mild injury.

I got hit in the face with a tennis ball and had a large bruise on my cheek for weeks.


Also known as “influenza,” this is a common sickness that usually affects people in the winter months.

Everyone at school has the flu, so they canceled classes.

Heart attack

A “heart attack” occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood or can’t pump blood.

He suffered a major heart attack, but he’s recovering in the hospital and is going to be okay.

2. Useful Phrases and Questions to Speak with Patients

A doctor taking the blood pressure of a patient

These are some of the most common questions health professionals need to ask their patients:

Certain hospital professionals, primarily doctors, have the authority to prescribe (order) medications for patients.

This refers to an additional appointment that’s intended to review improvement or changes over time. You’ll also see it as a noun, spelled with a hyphen: “follow-up appointment.”

3. Phrases for Hospital Staff at the Reception Desk

Man talking to receptionist at hospital

These phrases can be very useful if you work at the reception desk at a hospital or doctor’s office:

This is a common abbreviation used by medical professionals to mean “immediately.” You may hear it among other hospital staff or see it written on documents.

Where to Practice English for Hospital Staff Online

There are several resources available online to help you learn and practice medical English.


  • Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary: It’s not always great to search for medical terms in a regular English dictionary, because many of those terms have several general meanings. So, it’s hard to find the technical definition you’re looking for. Instead, search with this dictionary, which is designed to show you definitions that are relevant to a hospital staff’s work.


  • Medical English: Medical English offers a healthcare study program. The course consists of 20 units. It includes readings, speaking exercises, listening comprehension tasks and writing assignments. The program can be used by students who are studying alone. You can learn more about medical English in use and practice what you already know.


There are dozens of other English words and phrases that you might find useful for the hospital or doctor’s office, but these are some of the most common.

Once you memorize these words and phrases, spend some time using the resources above to practice these medical terms and sentences. Then, continue to learn and expand your English for hospital staff vocabulary even more!

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