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A Guide to Nursing Acronyms and Abbreviations

Published on: January 10, 2022

nursing sitting at a desk

The medical world is filled with acronyms. These abbreviations help medical professionals communicate quickly and effectively. But to the untrained ear, it sounds a bit like alphabet soup. Those interested in obtaining a nursing degree may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of acronyms and initialisms they'll need to use. Still, in the medical field, these abbreviations can be as critical as the care you provide.

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Education-Related Nursing Acronyms

Education-related acronyms denote various degrees, licensure exams and continuous learning requirements. They represent the milestones you'll achieve and serve as guideposts on your educational journey. Understanding the various education-related nursing acronyms is essential for those seeking a nursing degree.

ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing)

This nursing degree is generally obtained after completing a two-year program and is the minimum requirement to become a registered nurse. An associate degree is an undergraduate degree and, in some cases, can be completed in as few as 18 months. This degree can be a quick way to obtain the core knowledge and competencies required to become a nurse.

BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing)

This undergraduate degree usually takes four years to obtain and introduces nurses to advanced concepts like patient care technology. Classes cover topics like anatomy, physiology, microbiology, nutrition, public health, community health nursing and nursing research.

MSN (Master of Science in Nursing)

This postgraduate degree teaches nurses the skills needed to become nurse educators, nurse administrators, health policy experts or clinical nurse leaders. It typically takes around 18 months to obtain this degree, and you must have a BSN as a prerequisite.

DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice)

This terminal degree is one of three doctorates available to nurses. It gives you the skills and knowledge required to become a certified nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife, nurse anesthetist or clinical nurse leader.

Types of Nurses

The broad spectrum of nursing abbreviations represents the various roles within the field. LPNs provide primary care, while RNs offer a more comprehensive approach. For more specialized roles, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) like nurse practitioners (NPs), certified nurse midwives (CNMs), and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) signify an advanced level of expertise.

APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse)

APRNs hold advanced degrees and may be nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives. APRNs generally hold at least a master's degree and can treat and diagnose illnesses and provide public health advice.

CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant)

These nurses assist with daily patient care tasks and usually work under a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. This is one of the most common nursing jobs, with roughly 1.4 million people working in this role in the United States.

LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse)

LPNs provide basic medical care, such as checking vital signs, changing bandages and collecting patient information. There are roughly 657,000 LPNs in the United States.

RN (Registered Nurse)

RNs provide comprehensive patient care, perform diagnostic tests and procedures, operate medical equipment, administer medications, collaborate with healthcare teams and educate patients and their families about health conditions and preventative care.

NP (Nurse Practitioner)

Nurse practitioners take on many of the same duties as doctors. These healthcare professionals diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medication and may specialize in areas such as pediatrics or family medicine.

Nurse Practitioner Specialties

AGNP (Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner): These NPs focus on caring for patients in late adulthood and through to the end of their lives.

ENP (Emergency Nurse Practitioner): These nurses work with patients of all ages and generally focus on emergency care situations.

FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner): FNPs focus on primary and specialty care, including preventative care and monitoring long-term health.

NNP (Neonatal Nurse Practitioner): NNPs provide care for newborns, babies and toddlers.

ONP-C (Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner): ONP-Cs care for patients with muscular or skeletal problems, such as broken bones or arthritis.

PMHNP (Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner): These nurses diagnose and treat mental health conditions.

PNP (Pediatric Nurse Practitioner): These nurses provide care for children, including newborns, toddlers, school-aged children and adolescents.

WHNP (Women's Health Nurse Practitioner): WHNPs specialize in diagnosing and treating healthcare needs for women of all ages.

Nursing Exams

There are a variety of exams you'll take as you work your way toward becoming a nurse. Much like other nursing terms, many of these are referred to by their acronyms.

NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination)

You must pass this standardized exam to obtain licensure in the United States. It assesses the ability of nursing graduates to apply critical thinking and knowledge in entry-level nursing practice.

HOBET (Health Occupations Basic Entrance Test)

This is an entrance exam required by some colleges before pursuing a healthcare major. The HOBET contains questions that test your competencies in math, reading, test-taking, stress-level skills, social-interaction and learning-style.

NET (Nursing Entrance Test)

This is a common entrance exam used by some colleges to determine your math and reading comprehension level. These generally cover basic high school-level subjects and may assess other abilities, such as critical thinking.

NLN-PAX (Nursing Pre-Admission Examination)

This exam is made up of three tests: verbal ability, mathematics and science. The exam takes three hours in total, with one hour available for each of the three tests. You can take it remotely, and some of the tests are made up of various sub-tests.

PSB (Psychological Services Bureau)

This is another common entrance exam for nursing programs. It measures your aptitude in verbal, arithmetic and nonverbal skills, as well as your spelling and science competencies. Unlike other tests, it also aims to gauge your ethics and personality traits.

TEAS (Test of Academic Skills)

This is a standardized exam used for nursing school admission. It evaluates basic academic readiness in four areas: reading, mathematics, science and English.

Common Workplace Nursing Acronyms

After obtaining your nursing degree and finding a job, you'll still be exposed to various acronyms on a daily basis. Understanding these acronyms is crucial, as they can save you precious time during emergencies.

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

PPE for nurses includes gear designed to protect them from exposure to infectious diseases. Common PPE includes gloves, masks, gowns and face shields. In certain cases, respirators or full-body suits may be required. PPE is essential for maintaining a safe healthcare environment.

ICU (Intensive Care Unit)

Intensive care units have specialized staff and equipment, as they are designed to handle serious, often life-threatening cases. These units generally have respirators, feeding tubes and equipment designed to monitor patient vitals. They also typically administer sedatives and pain medications to those with serious injuries.

ED (Emergency Department)

This unit is designed for immediate care of patients with urgent health issues, ranging from injuries to severe illnesses. They are typically staffed 24/7 and equipped to handle life-threatening situations.

NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)

The NICU generally focuses on care for premature or ill newborns. These cases require specialized care and equipment. Not every hospital has a NICU, meaning some newborn patients must be moved to other facilities.

OR (Operating Room)

This is an antiseptic environment used for essential surgery. These rooms may vary depending on the surgery type and are often packed with technical equipment.

Nursing Organizations and Associations

Nursing organizations and associations are foundational to the nursing profession. They provide professional support, education, networking opportunities and advocacy for nurses at all levels.

ANA (American Nurses Association)

The ANA is a national organization aimed at supporting the nursing profession. It works to establish a nurse's code of ethics and promote a positive view of the nursing profession.

AAN (American Academy of Nursing)

This organization is an affiliate of the ANA and exists to collect and spread nursing knowledge to benefit the public and those in the healthcare profession. According to the AAN, it "represents nursing’s most accomplished leaders in policy, research, administration, practice and academia."

AANP (American Association of Nurse Practitioners)

The AANP is a large organization representing the interests of nurse practitioners. According to the AANP, it "empowers all NPs to advance accessible, person-centered, equitable, high-quality health care for diverse communities through practice, education, advocacy, research and leadership."

NSNA (National Student Nurses Association)

This nonprofit organization aims to mentor and educate nursing students preparing for licensure. They holds two annual meetings, which often attract a combined 4,500 participants and feature workshops, panels and other educational opportunities.

SPN (Society of Pediatric Nurses)

This organization supports pediatric nurses with news releases, educational resources and networking opportunities. The SPN also offers public resources to aid in child trafficking response and foster care suicide prevention.

Importance of Accurate Acronym Usage

Acronyms and initialisms will be used in nearly every leg of your nursing journey, from education to your career. Understanding what these acronyms mean and how to use them properly is essential if you want to be successful. Attending an online university like Husson is an excellent way to boost your knowledge of nursing terms and other essential aspects of the healthcare profession. Husson University offers several nursing programs that could set you up for success in the nursing field.

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