A Guide to Common Nursing Abbreviations

SimpleNursing Editorial Team May 2, 2022
Two young nurses wearing navy blue scrubs walk up a stairwell stairs together nurses working together

Nurses frequently use abbreviations and acronyms to help save time and enhance clarity while on the job. While such shorthand is supposed to simplify nurses’ work by simplifying communication, the lingo can be confusing if you’re new to the field.

The nursing field uses shorthand to describe everything from types of nursing jobs to patient conditions. It’s important to acquaint yourself with these terms if you’re thinking of becoming a nurse or are studying to become one. Even experienced nurses may benefit from a quick refresher on some common abbreviations.

Jump to Sections

  1. Education-Related Nursing Abbreviations
  2. Nurse Job Title Abbreviations
  3. 82 More Nursing Abbreviations to Know
  4. How Nursing Abbreviations Can Help

This guide highlights some of the most commonly used acronyms and abbreviations, saving you time to look them up yourself. Get a quick overview of some must-know shorthand for nurses below.

Why are nursing abbreviations necessary?

Learning and memorizing a bunch of nursing abbreviations may seem pointless. Wouldn’t it be easier for everybody to use the full terminology instead of learning abbreviated codes? Not quite.

Nursing is a fast-moving field. It’s important that health care practitioners can communicate quickly when it comes to patient care. Abbreviations can help save time with both verbal and written communication.

Additionally, there isn’t room for error in health care jobs like nursing. Clear communication is a must. Abbreviations can help here, too. Abbreviations are often easier to remember than lengthy, complex medical terms, reducing the risk of mistakes and enhancing transparency and clarity.

All nurses must be familiar with abbreviations and acronyms. Don’t “make up” your own shorthand, stick to the prescribed codes commonly used across the profession. 

So read on for a list of common abbreviations (shortened forms of written words/phrases) and acronyms (words formed using the first letter of each part of a compound term).

There are many types of nurse specialties and related nursing degrees. Understanding the various shorthand references to these areas of expertise will help you carve out your career path. Here’s a quick roundup of education-related terms:

ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing)

An ADN focuses on clinical/technical skills and is one of the degree options you can use to become a nurse. This can help you become a Registered Nurse (RN).

ASN (Associate of Science in Nursing)

An ASN teaches the technical skills needed to become a nurse and can be a step toward a Registered Nurse (RN) career.

BSN (Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing)

A BSN covers clinical skills and areas like nursing research, leadership, and management. Some employers prefer a bachelor’s over an associate’s when hiring registered nurses.

DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice)

A DNP is another advanced nursing degree typically pursued by people already working as RNs. It offers training in specializations and paves the path toward higher-level roles in clinical leadership, education, research, and administration.

MSN (Master of Science in Nursing)

An MSN is an intermediate graduate degree. It’s usually meant for people already working as RNs and who want to take their careers to a higher leadership level.

NCLEX-PN (National Council Licensure Examination Practical Nurses)

The NCLEX-PN is a nursing exam that aspiring health care workers must pass to work as practical nurses supporting RNs. It covers content like nursing processes and general related knowledge, from anatomy to microbiology.

NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses)

The NCLEX-RN covers similar content to the NCLEX-PN. However, this comprehensive exam also focuses on management and leadership-related skills, such as communication, documentation, and teaching — in addition to basic nursing knowledge.

PND (Practical Nursing Diploma)

A PND program introduces core nursing skills and theories, preparing students for entry-level nursing positions.

Nurse Job Title Abbreviations

You can pursue many types of nursing jobs. Here’s an overview of some common nurse job titles and their abbreviations:

APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse)

APRNs diagnose and treat patients, provide chronic disease management, and advise on public health issues.

CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant)

CNAs provide hands-on patient care in hospitals, home care, and nursing homes. They can help with basic needs, from bathing to grooming and mobility.

CNM (Certified Nurse-Midwife)

CNMs provide gynecological and reproductive care, helping women with everything from labor and delivery to postpartum care and menopause support.

CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist)

A CRNA is responsible for administering anesthesia and providing before- and after-care related to anesthesia administration. CRNAs can work in various settings, from dentist’s offices to doctor’s offices.

LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse or Licensed Vocational Nurse)

LPNs are known as LVNs in some states. They provide hands-on routine patient care, working closely with RNs to develop individual care plans. Their scope of practice is less than an RN.

NA (Nursing Aide or Nursing Assistant)

NAs work under the supervision of doctors or higher-level nurses to provide basic patient care. Their tasks could include bathing, grooming, feeding, and dressing patients.

NP (Nurse Practitioner)

NPs are advanced nurses with the training to assess and diagnose patients, order and interpret medical tests, and prescribe medications. The scope of permitted responsibilities for an NP varies between states. For example, in California, NPs must work with a licensed physician.

PRN (Pro re nata or per diem nurse)

PRN is an acronym for the Latin “pro re nata,” which essentially translates to “as necessary.” PRN nurses work on an as-needed basis and are essentially on demand. They are also referred to as per diem (per day) nurses. PRN jobs offer more flexibility but lack the benefits of a full-time employed nurse.

RN (Registered Nurse)

RNs provide hands-on patient care. They can work in various settings, from hospitals to prisons, inpatient homes, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities. Their work may include administering treatments, checking vital signs, and helping to create care plans.

82 More Nursing Abbreviations to Know

Are you ready to improve your nursing know-how by mastering the most common medical abbreviations and acronyms? Here’s a quick roundup of some common terms and how they’re used:

  1. A: Anterior
  2. Abd: Abdomen
  3. ABG: Arterial blood gas
  4. ACLS: Advanced cardiac life support
  5. A&D: Admission and discharge
  6. ADL: Activities of daily living
  7. AED: Automated external defibrillator
  8. AMA: Against Medical Advice
  9. Amb: Ambulatory (able to walk)
  10. Amt: Amount
  11. AP: Appendectomy
  12. Bid: Twice a Day
  13. BP: Blood pressure
  14. BUN: Blood urea nitrogen
  15. CAT: Computer axial tomography or computerized adaptive testing, depending on the context
  16. Cath: Catheter
  17. CBC: Complete blood count
  18. CCU: Cardiac/coronary care unit
  19. CBR: Complete bed rest
  20. CHF: Congestive heart failure
  21. C/O: Complaint/complains of
  22. COPD: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  23. CABG: Coronary artery bypass graft
  24. CAD: Coronary artery disease
  25. CNS: Central nervous system
  26. CPR: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  27. CVA: Cerebrovascular accident or stroke
  28. CXR: Chest X-ray
  29. DC or d/c: Discontinue
  30. DMD: Diabetes mellitus
  31. DNR: Do not resuscitate
  32. DOA: Dead on arrival
  33. DOB: Date of birth
  34. DVT: Deep vein thrombosis
  35. DX: Diagnosis
  36. ECG (or EKG): Electrocardiogram
  37. EEG: Electroencephalogram
  38. ED: Emergency department
  39. ER: Emergency room
  40. FBS: Fasting blood sugar
  41. FF: Forced feeding or forced fluids
  42. Fx: Fracture
  43. GER: Gastroesophageal reflux
  44. GHB: Glycosylated hemoglobin
  45. GI: Gastrointestinal
  46. Gtt: Glucose tolerance test
  47. Gyn: Gynecology
  48. Hct: Hematocrit
  49. Hgb: Hemoglobin
  50. HOB: Head of bed
  51. H&P: History and Physical
  52. HR: Heart Rate
  53. HTN: Hypertension
  54. ICU: Intensive care unit
  55. IM: Intramuscular
  56. I&O: Intake and output
  57. Isol: Isolation
  58. IV: Intravenous
  59. K: Potassium
  60. LOC: Level of consciousness
  61. LP: Lumbar puncture
  62. MI: Myocardial infarction
  63. MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging
  64. Noct: At night
  65. NPO: Nothing by mouth
  66. OTC: Over-the-counter
  67. PA: Posteroanterior
  68. PAR: Postanesthesia room
  69. PICU: Pediatric intensive care unit
  70. PO: By mouth
  71. Post-op spec: After-surgery urine specimen
  72. PT: Patient or pint, depending on context
  73. Qid: Four times a day
  74. Qod: Every other day
  75. ROM: Range of motion
  76. SOB: Shortness of breath
  77. Stat: At once, immediately
  78. TPR: Temperature, pulse, respiration
  79. U/A: Urinalysis
  80. UTI: Urinary tract infection
  81. VS: Vital signs
  82. W/C: Wheelchair

How Nursing Abbreviations Can Help

When you’re first entering the nursing field, understanding the various nursing abbreviations related to education and job titles can help you determine your career path. For example, knowing the abbreviation of the exams you must pass to get a particular nursing credential can help you find useful study materials and resources.

When it comes to studying for the actual exam itself, a basic understanding of the terms commonly used within nursing settings is helpful. Exams may test your familiarity with specific acronyms and abbreviations. You may be unable to answer questions quickly (or at all) if you don’t know what these terms mean.

Get the Nursing Exam Prep Resources You Need

Mastering nursing abbreviations is one step in preparing for any nursing career. Get the support you need for your nursing exams with educational resources from SimpleNursing.

SimpleNursing offers comprehensive study guides and tools to help you with various nursing career paths. 

Start a free trial now to prepare for your next exam.

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