A Travel Nurse's Guide to Common Abbreviations

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Mastering Medical Shorthand

When you're a travel nurse, the ability to adapt quickly is an absolute must. These professionals must be ready for just about anything, from mastering new technologies to acclimating to varying work cultures. Yet one thing that can remain challenging throughout your travel healthcare career is understanding the labyrinth of medical abbreviations you may encounter. 

Every hospital, clinic, or healthcare facility has its own systems, processes, and culture, and with that comes a unique set of abbreviations. Knowing the most common medical abbreviations is crucial for maintaining effective communication, enhancing patient safety, and streamlining your workflow. 

To make your life easier, we have compiled a list of essential medical abbreviations every travel nurse should know: 

ABG - Arterial Blood Gas: This is a test that measures the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. It's particularly vital in assessing the lung function of critically ill patients. 

ADL - Activities of Daily Living: This abbreviation refers to the everyday tasks that patients may or may not be able to do independently, such as eating, bathing, or dressing. 

BID - Bis in Die: In Latin, this means twice a day. It's often used in medical prescriptions. 

BP - Blood Pressure: A fundamental vital sign, BP is always essential to know and monitor. 

CBC - Complete Blood Count: A standard screening test that assesses various components of blood, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. 

CPR - Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation: This is a life-saving emergency procedure performed when the heart stops beating. 

CT - Computed Tomography: An imaging procedure that combines multiple X-ray images to create cross-sectional views of the body. 

DM - Diabetes Mellitus: A chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar. 

DNR - Do Not Resuscitate: An order indicating that a patient does not want to receive CPR if their heart stops or if they stop breathing. 

ECG/EKG - Electrocardiogram: A test that measures the electrical activity of the heartbeat. 

FUO - Fever of Unknown Origin: This term is used when a patient has a persistent fever, but the cause is not immediately apparent. 

GERD - Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: A digestive disorder that affects the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach. 

H&P - History and Physical: This refers to the complete health history and physical examination of a patient. 

HTN - Hypertension: More commonly known as high blood pressure. 

IM - Intramuscular: An injection given into a muscle. 

IV - Intravenous: An injection or infusion given directly into a vein. 

MRI - Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A type of imaging test that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the body. 

NPO - Nil Per Os: A Latin term that means "nothing by mouth". Patients are usually NPO before surgery or certain procedures. 

OA - Osteoarthritis: A degenerative joint disease often referred to as "wear and tear" arthritis. 

OPD - Outpatient Department: The section of the hospital where patients receive care without being admitted. 

PERRLA - Pupils Equal, Round, Reactive to Light and Accommodation: This acronym is used to document a normal physical examination of the pupils. 

PRN - Pro Re Nata: Another Latin term, which translates to "as needed.” This is often used for medications that are not on a regular schedule but taken when required. 

QID - Quater in Die: Yet another Latin phrase, this one means "four times a day.” It's frequently used in prescriptions. 

RICE - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation: A common treatment plan for minor sprains and strains. 

SOB - Shortness of Breath: A symptom that can be a sign of many different medical conditions. 

STAT - Statim: This is an urgent request for immediate action, originating from the Latin word meaning "immediately". 

TIA - Transient Ischemic Attack: Often called a "mini-stroke," it's a brief episode of neurological dysfunction. 

UTI - Urinary Tract Infection: An infection that affects any part of the urinary system. 

VS - Vital Signs: Basic medical check-ups to monitor the body's basic functions. They typically include blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature, and respiration rate. 


These abbreviations are just a starting point. A plethora of abbreviations are used in the healthcare world, varying from general medical terms to very specialized shorthand for specific departments or diseases. Always remember, don't hesitate to ask for clarification when in doubt. It's better to take a moment to confirm than to make an assumption that could affect a patient's care. 

In the high-speed world of travel nursing, mastering these abbreviations can help you seamlessly transition into new roles, ensure effective communication with your new team, and, most importantly, deliver top-tier care to your patients, regardless of your journey. 

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Since 2006, FlexCare Medical Staffing has become a nationwide leader in travel nursing, allied health, therapy, and LVN / LPN staffing services for top healthcare facilities. With office locations in Roseville, California and Charlotte, North Carolina, FlexCare is committed to creating a transparent environment that prioritizes clinician experience. As a result, industry authorities like BluePipes, Staffing Industry Analysts, and Travel Nursing Central continually recognize FlexCare as a top healthcare staffing company.