The medical industry and the surgical field routinely attract the attention of pop media. Millions of viewers enjoy watching physicians and surgeons in television shows and movies. Perhaps, you recognize and even watched Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Doctor, The Resident, The Surgeon’s Cut, Scrubs, and The Surgeon.
As you watch these shows, this question might be lingering in your mind: Why do surgeons say “stat”? What is the meaning of this term, and how important is it in emergencies and cases?
Definition and etymology
“Stat” is a medical term and directive for doctors, nurses, and staff during an emergency. This word is an abbreviation derived from statim, a Latin word that means “immediately,” “right away,” “at once,” or “instantly.”
The word stat denotes speed and necessity when said in critical times and written in medical reports.
Why surgeons say stat?
Saying stat during emergencies has been a tradition in the medical community. Reading from surgeons’ responses online, some say that they do it because stat sounds “cool” compared to imperative words like “now” or “quick.” However, it is also unknown when stat became a medical term.
How often surgeons nowadays say stat?
Medical shows pepper critical scenes with surgeons and nurses screaming stat. It has even become an indicator for stressful moments during procedures and emergencies.
Because of this, it is easy to conclude that saying stat is a standard rule. But in practice, present medical staff start to say it less and less.
Hearing stat in the emergency room or operating theater might scratch some heads, especially for other medical staff unfamiliar with the word.
Besides, the English language offers so many clearer synonyms to stat, like “now.” British surgeons and younger physicians tend to prefer this instead of saying stat.
In some hospitals and settings, saying stat has become a funny joke among medical personnel because of its obscure and traditional tone.
Where stat is said most of the time?
In a medical magazine named Stat, Dr. Helen Farell, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, explained that stat is used more in written orders and reports.
For example, a surgeon can interpret that the surgery must be conducted immediately from reading the word stat on the patient’s log. Pharmacists also send drugs and medications with the stat description on the request.
Hence, while the word stat is being said less and less in emergency rooms and operating rooms, this tradition thrives in its written form.
The relationship between Latin and the medical field
Now that you know where stat came from and why surgeons say it, you might be asking another question: Why was this word derived from Latin?
The word stat is among the thousands of medical terms that came from this extinct language. From pathology to human anatomy, the legacy of Latin is alive and preserved.
Why is this the case? Why is Latin deeply ingrained in the fields of medicine and surgery?
During the Age of Antiquity
The Greeks pioneered medicine as a science in the Western hemisphere—Greek is the language of the oldest medical documents and terminologies preserved.
When the Roman Empire invaded Greece, the Latin-speaking Romans adopted Greek medicine. For two centuries, Greek was still the language of medicine. Also, the majority of physicians at that time descended from Greece.
But in the first century A.D., Aulus Cornelius Celsus, a Roman aristocrat in Southern France, wrote a textbook named De Medicina. Although it adopts Greek medicine and practices, Celsus wrote it in Latin.
Celsus’ translation and authorship captivate linguists because these sparked the use of Latin in medicine. Since many Greek medical terms had no Latin equivalents, Celsus imported Greek words, including their endings.
De Medicina also presents Latinized medical terms which replace Greek endings and letters. These terms preserve the original sense of the Greek medical vocabulary.
Because of this, many of them stayed similar to anatomical terms derived from Greek words for armor parts, tools, animals, plants, and instruments. Celsius also introduced new terms using the Latin language.
The Rise and Fall of Medical Latin
When the Medieval Era ended in the 16th century, Greek and Arabic fell out of use in scholarship and medicine.
At this time, Latin began to become the lingua franca in Europe. The invention of the printing press further established Latin as well.
Older medical texts were written and translated into Latin, commencing the Era of Medial Latin. Celsus’ De Medicina and other ancient Latin medical texts served as the foundation for newer medical terminologies.
But when the world saw the rise of nationalism and national languages in the 19th century, the Era of Medical Latin ended. The final well-known medical book in Latin, the Commentarii, was published in 1802.
Today, the major world languages have medical terminologies, all with Latin as their foundation. English, German, Italian, and French may have replaced Latin, but the legacy of Latin in medicine lives on.
Although these European languages share a similar origin, they have nuances and forms unique to them.
For example, Germanic languages (including Dutch and Scandinavian tongues) directly follow the Latin endings. But English and Romance languages like French naturalize the accents of the words based on their norms.
In Eastern Europe, Slavic languages translate the terms directly. Greek tends to allow Greek medical terms only.
Coining new medical terms
However, as medicine evolves, its terminologies in these languages transform as well. Physicians, surgeons, and scientists create new vocabulary based on Greek and Latin roots.
In coining new technology, experts weigh the intrinsic features of ancient languages. It is challenging to create composite words in Latin, so scientists also introduce new terms from Greek.
Examples of these Greek-based words include nephrectomy, the surgical removal of the kidneys. If it came from Latin, the term would be excisio renis. Furthermore, the Greek language comes with many suffixes, such as -itis, which can signify and classify diseases.
But several medical terms mix Greek and Latin. For example, the term hypertension combines the Greek prefix hyper- and Latin tension for high blood pressure.
The Era of Medical English
Currently, the world’s lingua franca is the English language. The majority of prestigious medical journals and research papers are in English. It is also the preferred language at conferences and meetings.
As we see the height of English in the medical world, the names of new technologies and treatments come from this language.