Common Mistake among Physicians in Writing the Age of Patient as Compound Adjective
In medical recording and reporting done by medical students, residents, fellows, and full-pledged physicians as well, the age of patients is often specified or indicated. The common forms of indicating the age of the patients consist of the following: “This is a case of a xx-year-old male ….” and “M.L. is a zz-year-old female….”
My experience is that very very often (90% of the time), there is a grammatical mistake occurring in writing the age as a compound adjective.
What is a compound adjective? It is formed when two or more adjectives work together to modify the same noun.
The rule is that these terms in the compound adjective should be hyphenated before the noun. The common mistake is the lack of hyphens in the compound adjective.
Below are two examples lifted from a published journal:
There must be hyphens in the compound adjectives indicating the age of the female, like so: 31-year-old female. “31-year-old” is a compound adjective for the noun “female.” Note: There is another set of compound adjective which needs a hyphen: 1.5 cm mass should be 1.5-cm mass.
There must be hyphens in the compound adjectives indicating the age of the male and the female respectively, like so, 39-year-old male and 21-year-old female.
Below is another example obtained from a medical presentation of a surgical resident in a conference:
“Then suddenly the silence was broken with the arrival of a 36 year-old-male who was brought in via a stretcher, accompanied by three Red Cross rescue volunteers. We immediately assessed the patient and through history, it was known that the patient tried to kill himself by jumping in front of a 14-wheeler truck.”
The correct writing should be “36-year-old male.”
To my physician-colleagues and medical students,
Please take note of this common mistake and avoid it. Place hyphens in the age when used as compound adjectives!