Reading and Understanding Medical Texts – Introduction

Reading and Understanding Medical Texts – Introduction

Good sources of information

Reading and Understanding Medical Texts – Comprehension

The health care profession is constantly changing; for example, research is conducted
and published on a wide range of topics; government policies change and new best practices are introduced. Even though their schedules are demanding, health care professionals need to keep informed of what is happening in their field.

A lot of medical literature is written in a high level, formal language. Educational information for patients will not likely be written at that level and the writers attempt to communicate the message in more “day-to-day” speech. Not everyone agrees that this literature is accessible to patients and their families.

You may practice comprehension of a medical text here by completing our reading comprehension exercise


To paraphrase a statement is to restate it using different words and/or grammar while keeping the same meaning. You can paraphrase a statement at the same level of language or at a different level, e.g. make the sentence harder or easier than the original. This requires a solid understanding of the concepts and a good range of vocabulary. Being able to express difficult concepts more simply can help your listener. It can also help you to discuss subjects that you understand but cannot yet talk about at a high level of language.

The paraphrasing exercises in this section can be done in writing or orally.

An example

Let’s take the following as a sample statement that can be found in literature on health:
There is no end in sight in the battle between human beings and the diseases that can destroy them.

The first step in paraphrasing this statement is to make sure you understand it. You may already know what it means. If not, take a moment to think about the meaning. Do you have to check any words in a dictionary or a thesaurus? Do you have anyone you can ask?

The second step is to brainstorm possible substitutes for the words or phrases contained in the statement. Think about keeping the same level of language, for example:
battle – war
no end in sight – no light at the end of the tunnel

The third step is to construct a sentence containing new words which is grammatically accurate and conveys the same meaning as the original. There may be a number of suitable possibilities. It helps to read the sentence out loud to see if it “makes sense”.

The following is the result of one attempt at paraphrasing our example:
There is no light at the end of the tunnel in the war between people and the illnesses that can wipe them out.

The fourth and final step is to have someone else verify that you have in fact been able to keep the same meaning and that your spelling and grammar are accurate.

Improving this skill

Doing crossword puzzles and reading a wide range of material are two excellent ways to improve your paraphrasing skills.


Most, if not all, employers value clear and accurate written communication. Producing letters and reports which are free of spelling and grammar mistakes can prove difficult for a native speaker of English and exceptionally difficult for those who have English as a second or third language.

We will not attempt to teach spelling and grammar to our readers; however, we can provide exercises which will assist our readers to develop certain skills.

Proofreading (reading over a document, sometimes several times, to look for and correct errors in spelling, grammar and content) is a very important skill which can be developed with practice.

Good sources of information

If English is not your first language, you may find that your reading skills in English are better than your speaking skills. Your reading may, in fact, be very good because you had to study texts written in English while at school.

Learning and using new vocabulary is important to your success. There are many sources of health care information that you can read in order to improve your vocabulary and reading comprehension. Can you think of any?

Examples include:

  • Medical journals;
  • Magazine articles (e.g. in Chatelaine, Canadian Living);
  • Newspaper articles;
  • Health-related websites;
  • Education pamphlets produced by pharmaceutical companies (sometimes found in pharmacies);
  • Educational material produced by hospitals for their patients;
  • Fact sheets that accompany prescriptions;
  • Books on a wide range of subjects (from your local public library, university library or bookstore).