A Guide to Common Nursing Abbreviations

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Nurses frequently use abbreviations and acronyms to help save time and enhance clarity while on the job. While such shorthand is supposed to make nurses’ work easier 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.

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

Why do nursing professionals use abbreviations?

Learning and memorizing a bunch of nursing abbreviations probably seems 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. 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).

More than 80 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.

Education-related nursing abbreviations

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 (Assoiate 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 doesn’t just cover clinical skills but also areas like nursing research, leadership, and management. Some employers prefer a bachelor’s over an associate degree 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 care to patients 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 care for patients, 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 that have 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.

Work-related nurse abbreviations

Once you’ve got your job in the nursing field, you’ll see common abbreviations used in paperwork and between health care providers to discuss patient care and processes. You should familiarize yourself with these terms to ensure fast, clear, and correct communication. You should also know these terms if you’re preparing for a nursing exam. Here are some essentials:

  • A: Anterior
  • Abd: Abdomen
  • A&D: Admission and discharge
  • ADL: Activities of daily living
  • Amb: Ambulatory (able to walk)
  • Amt: Amount
  • AP: Appendectomy
  • BP: Blood pressure
  • CAT: Computer axial tomography or computerized adaptive testing, depending on the context
  • Cath: Catheter
  • CBC: Complete blood count
  • CCU: Cardiac/coronary care unit
  • CBR: Complete bed rest
  • CHF: Congestive heart failure
  • CXR: Chest X-ray
  • C/O: Complaint of
  • COPD: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • CABG: Coronary artery bypass graft
  • CAD: Coronary artery disease
  • CNS: Central nervous system
  • CVA: Cerebrovascular accident or stroke
  • CPR: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • DC or d/c: Discontinue
  • DMD: Diabetes mellitus
  • DOB: Date of birth
  • DVT: Deep vein thrombosis
  • DX: Diagnosis
  • ECG: Electrocardiogram
  • EEG: Electroencephalogram
  • ED: Emergency department
  • ER: Emergency room
  • FBS: Fasting blood sugar
  • FF: Forced feeding or forced fluids
  • Fx: Fracture
  • GER: Gastroesophageal reflux
  • GHB: Glycosylated hemoglobin
  • GI: Gastrointestinal
  • Gtt: Glucose tolerance test
  • Gyn: Gynecology
  • HOB: Head of bed
  • ICU: Intensive care unit
  • I&O: Intake and output
  • Isol: Isolation
  • IV: Intravenous
  • K: Potassium
  • LP: Lumbar puncture
  • MI: Myocardial infarction
  • MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Noct: At night
  • NPO: Nothing by mouth
  • OTC: Over-the-counter
  • PA: Posteroanterior
  • PAR: Postanesthesia room
  • PICU: Pediatric intensive care unit
  • PO: By mouth
  • Post-op spec: After-surgery urine specimen
  • PT: Patient or pint, depending on context
  • Qid: Four times a day
  • Qod: Every other day
  • ROM: Range of motion
  • SOB: Shortness of breath
  • Stat: At once, immediately
  • TPR: Temperature, pulse, respiration
  • U/A: Urinalysis
  • UTI: Urinary tract infection
  • VS: Vital signs
  • W/C: Wheelchair

How abbreviations can help during nursing exams

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 need to 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 not be able to answer questions quickly (or at all) if you don’t know what these terms mean.

Get the nursing exam prep resources you need from SimpleNursing

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.

From the NCLEX-PN to the TEAS and NCLEX-RN, 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.