PART 2. Common Medical and Health Related Abbreviations: Important to Know Before your Medical Interview

In part one of this article we discussed the reasons why in your medical school interview you may be asked about some common medical abbreviations. For example GMC, NICE etc; or about some medical/health terms e.g. postcode lottery or about people and places e.g. Jeremy Hunt, Mid Staffordshire etc. In summary, there are various basic terms that you are expected to know but generally non Oxbridge medical interviews are not asking you about these simply to quiz your knowledge. Instead they are seeing if you have some background understanding about the world of health and medicine. By demonstrating that you do, you are showing that your decision to study medicine is a well-informed one based on research and an understanding of medicine and healthcare instead of merely a strong feeling or desire to study medicine. Additionally, with so many of the applicants having the necessary academic achievements and other attributes, you need to be able to stand out as a candidate. Being well informed and knowledgeable about health and medicine will certainly help you do this. Also remember, occasionally at your medical school interview they may ask you questions that you are unlikely to know the answer to on purpose to see how well you handle this and this is discussed in this article also.

Here are some common medical abbreviations that you should become familiar with. You do not need to memorise every last detail about these subjects. You need to be aware of them and have a very good general knowledge about them.

MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus)

You do not need to memorise what this abbreviation stands for. However, you do need to know what it is and its relevance.

In a nutshell:

MRSA has been a big story in the media in the past few decades. MRSA is a superbug that is resistant to many antibiotics and therefore difficult to eradicate. It can cause life threatening infections. Ways to combat it include proper use of antibiotics particularly avoiding overuse of antibiotics, proper hygiene in healthcare settings and screening people for MRSA before or as they enter hospital so these people can be isolated and treated. Successful implementation of the above steps by hospitals has led to rates of MRSA significantly falling and you will hear less about it in the media.

In more detail:

MRSA is a term that many people will have seen or heard about in the news, whilst visiting hospital or other health care settings. Staphylococcus Aureus is the name of a bacteria found naturally and harmlessly on everybody’s skin, on many objects and surfaces etc. Methicillin is a type of antibiotic. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus or MRSA for short is a type of Staphylococcus Aureus which is highly resistant to most known antibiotics and is very difficult to eradicate. You may hear MRSA being referred to as a superbug – for this reason.

MRSA exists because bacteria have been exposed to so many different types of antibiotics because of modern medicine. Most of the bacteria are killed but a few manage to survive after exposure to an antibiotic. These few surviving bacteria then multiply and these new bacteria have then inherited the ability to be resistant to certain antibiotics. This is why it is important for people to finish their prescribed course of antibiotics to ensure that all bacteria are killed and to avoid the over use of antibiotics as it gives bacteria more exposure to them and a chance to develop resistance.

All people will have Staphylococcus Aureus harmlessly on their body and many healthy people will even have MRSA harmlessly on their bodies too. In healthy people this is fine. However, if someone becomes very unwell or if MRSA enters a wound, an artificial joint such as a knee or hip or into someone’s body during surgery then they can develop a severe and possibly life threatening infection. MRSA can destroy artificial joints. This is extremely difficult to treat as MRSA is resistant to most antibiotics. Luckily there are antibiotics which can treat it. For this reason it is very important that hospitals maintain clean environments and people wash hands and surfaces frequently to stop the spread of MRSA. Nowadays in hospitals people are screened (by taking skin, nasal or armpit swabs example) for carrying MRSA before operations or during admissions. If they are found to have MRSA then they receive treatment to try and eradicate the MRSA and they are kept in isolated side rooms. If they are due for surgery, they can be done at the end of the day and the operating room undergoes an even more specialised cleaning process than normal.

C.difficile/ C.diff (Full name: Clostridium difficile)

In a nutshell:

A common bacteria, often found in the human gut and in soil and faeces. If it overgrows then it can cause severe diarrhoea and potentially life threatening gut infections. A common cause of a C.difficile infection is as a side effect of antibiotic use particularly prolonged, multiple or unnecessary antibiotic use. Prevention strategies include judicious use of antibiotics, including using them only when required, avoiding certain antibiotics, limiting the number of simultaneous antibiotics used and shortening their length of use.

In more detail:

This is another bacterium that you may have heard about in the news or whilst visiting hospital or health care settings. Again it is a bacterium that lives all around us including inside peoples intestines (gut) and is harmless for most people. If there is an overgrowth of this bacteria then it can cause a severe and sometimes life threatening infection. One of the commonest reasons a C.difficile infection can happen is by actually being caused by medical treatment (we call harm caused by medical examination or intervention iatrogenic harm). This is by use of antibiotics. Antibiotics kill infectious bacteria so for example if you had a chest infection, antibiotics can kill the bacteria that caused it. However, the antibiotic will also kill normal, healthy bacteria. In most people this will only be moderate and not cause any particular problems. Sometimes, however, because the normal healthy bacteria has been killed it allows other harmful bacteria such as C.difficile to flourish as they don’t have any competition any more (just as if you left your house abandoned for many months squatters could take over as no one occupies your house anymore). This is more likely to happen if people take certain types of antibiotics, or for prolonged periods or when they don’t have a bacterial infection.

MMR vaccine (Measles Mumps Rubella vaccine)

There are many vaccinations given to people throughout their lifetime. MMR is simply one of these vaccinations but has become quite famous in the media for reasons we shall discuss. Over 500 million MMR vaccinations have been administered around the world. It is one single vaccination which vaccinates against all three of the above mentioned diseases. These three diseases mainly affect children and can be very serious if untreated. Successful uptake of the vaccination has led to enormously reducing new cases of these conditions in the population.

In 1998, a Dr called Andrew Wakefield produced a paper based on research he conducted and made various public claims that the combined MMR vaccine was not safe and had links to autism and bowel disease. The research was later found to have been fraudulent, unethical and it was reported that Andrew Wakefield had competing financial interests and had received over £400,000 from various sources which he did not disclose. He was struck off the medical register by the GMC for his fraudulent research and multiple areas of misconduct, therefore barring him from practicing Medicine in the UK.

The effect of Andrew Wakfield’s work is that it resulted in a large decline in the uptake of the vaccine and fuelled a general sense of distrust in vaccinations. This is because of the very large amount of media attention, usually by non-experts, this story got and led to descriptions of “science by media”. This reduced uptake led directly to large increases in the three conditions which were otherwise well controlled when vaccination rates were high. Despite the research being retracted and discredited, Andrew Wakefield being struck off and similar research not reproducing any of Andrew Wakefields findings – many members of the general public still associate the MMR vaccine with autism despite there being no scientific basis for this claim. This shows how powerful the media and peoples contact with doctors and scientists can be in areas such as public health.

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