Courses for medical translators

Medical translators and writers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some have a scientific or medical degree, while others may have studied journalism, languages or translation. For those with a non-medical background, there are a number of free online courses that can help build subject-matter understanding and medical terminology.

Many universities around the world are now offering “Massive Open Online Courses” or MOOCs. Some of these courses are self-paced so you can start at any time, and others start on a particular date. If you’ve missed the start date but the course is still running, you can sign up and view the course materials, or if the course has finished, you can “watch” it to be notified of future sessions.

Here are five of the best, free online courses on medicine and health care.

Clinical Terminology for International and U.S. Students

University of Pittsburgh (Coursera)

6 weeks, 2-4 hours per week

Current session: 9 February – 27 March 2015

I took this course last year and found it useful, even though it’s pitched at a basic level. It’s aimed at international students wanting to study medicine in the US, and gives an introduction to clinical and nursing terms, acronyms and abbreviations that are commonly used in hospital settings. While the content was mainly familiar, I found the terminology work helpful, as well as the hand-outs and clinical dictionary provided.

Although the current course has already started, you can still join in, or “watch” the course for news of future sessions.

Introduction to Human Physiology

Duke University (Coursera)

22 hours of videos and assessments

Self-paced, start at any time

I started this course last year when it was run on a particular date, rather than being self-paced. I found the videos and materials fascinating, but the weekly workload was quite high so I haven’t yet finished all of the assessments. Now that the course is self-paced, I’m looking forward to finishing it and earning a certificate.

The course is aimed at undergraduate and graduate students with a background in biology. It covers the basic concepts in human physiology that govern organs, organ systems and homeostasis. It includes modules on the nervous, muscle, cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine, reproductive, gastrointestinal and urinary systems.

AnatomyX: Musculoskeletal Cases

HavardX (EdX)

8 weeks, 3-6 hours per week

Previous session: 30 September 2014

I very much enjoyed this HarvardX course last year and would recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the musculoskeletal system. Although there are currently no sessions scheduled, you can sign up with EdX to be notified of upcoming course dates.

The course is structured around five musculoskeletal cases. It covers background study on anatomy, histology and radiology as well as details of each case. The anatomy sessions also include observation of dissections in the Harvard Medical School anatomy laboratories.

Health Literacy and Communication for Health Professionals

University of Nebraska Medical Center (Coursera)

8 weeks, 3-6 hours per week

Previous session: 19 October 2014

I was very keen to take this course last year but it clashed with AnatomyX, so I’m hoping to join the next session if it runs again this year.

The course is aimed at health professionals and covers health literacy and health communication. Before starting the course, participants should complete the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s self-directed online training, Health Literacy for Public Health Professionals. This gives an introduction to health literacy and takes about 1.5-2 hours to complete. The course also draws on the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on Health Literacy discussion paper, Ten Attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organizations.

Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life

The University of Chicago (Coursera)

10 weeks, 4-6 hours per week

Current session: 23 February – 24 May 2015

This is another course that is high on my To Do list. It starts with foundations of neuroanatomy, neurodevelopment and neural communication and goes on to look at neurological conditions and brain activity in everyday life.

You can still join in the current session, or “watch” the course for notification of future dates.

More resources

If you’re interested in exploring more online courses in medicine and health, have a look at the options at Coursera. There are also quite a few on EdX – select medicine under the “Subjects” heading on the right. And for a wider range of courses and providers, try the MOOC List or CourseTalk.

The Khan Academy offers free courses in Health and Medicine and preparation for the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

Inside Health, a BBC Radio 4 programme, covers current health issues and is available online or as a podcast on iTunes.

Finally, the Boundless Anatomy and Physiology textbook is another great resource that you can study at your leisure.

Over to you

Have you participated in any online courses on medical or health care topics? Which ones can you recommend? Join me on Twitter or Google+ to let me know!

By Jayne Fox BSc MITI, German-English medical translator.

Image © Bethany Legg at

Please note that I do not have a commercial relationship with any of the organisations mentioned above.

Share This