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Guide to Common Nursing Acronyms and What They Mean

Published on: January 10, 2022

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Nursing is a thriving, constantly changing field with much to offer for aspiring health-care professionals. However, new nurses can find the learning curve intimidating, especially the abundance of initialisms and acronyms they encounter as they try to enter the field.

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Terms like RN (registered nurse) or NP (nurse practitioner) are pretty straightforward, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg. When you explore more specific job titles, a jumble of letters distinguishing a wide array of specialties unfolds. What's more, common nursing acronyms and initialisms also reference degrees, organizations and exams.

Struggling to keep dozens of medical acronyms and initialisms straight? We're here to help. In this guide, we break down the nursing terminology you'll encounter most frequently in the health-care field. Keep reading to learn what these acronyms and initialisms mean, why they're important and how you can tell them apart. 

Nursing Degrees

Prior to gaining nursing credentials, you'll need to graduate from a certificate or degree program. These, like many other types of degrees, are often referred to by a series of initialisms:

  • ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing): The ADN is the minimum requirement for becoming an RN. This program typically takes about two years to complete, thereby providing a quick means of getting involved in the health-care industry.
  • BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing): RNs who seek greater responsibilities or higher pay typically move on to their BSN. Many are able to obtain this four-year degree while working full-time.
  • MSN (Master of Science in Nursing): Essential for working as a nurse practitioner or nurse manager, the MSN encourages those with their BSN to obtain specialized knowledge and skills. Upon earning this advanced degree, nursing professionals can receive expanded autonomy as well as a significant boost in pay.

Nursing Credentials

Licensure credentials should not be confused with the degrees highlighted above. Rather, these represent the main levels of nursing with which you are, most likely, already familiar. Examples include licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs).

While certain degrees are required to achieve many credentials, it is possible to obtain a degree without moving to the next level. For example, it's conceivable for both ADN and BSN graduates to work as RNs, although those with their BSN will likely receive higher pay.

Nurse Practitioner Specialties

While acronyms and initialisms are common in all levels of nursing, they can get confusing once a health-care professional achieves the distinction of nurse practitioner (NP).

The prevalence of acronyms among NPs can be credited to the need for specialization at this advanced level of nursing. Niche certifications and job titles verify that NPs are qualified to work in highly specialized areas of nursing.

The following are among the most noteworthy nurse practitioner specialties:

  • ACHPN (Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative): Equipped to work in a hospice setting, these palliative care providers combine medical knowledge with a holistic approach to provide improved comfort and quality of life.
  • ACNP (Acute Care): Responsible for diagnosing acute conditions and developing treatment plans, ACNPs work with critically ill or injured patients while dealing with rapidly changing conditions.
  • ACONP (Advanced Oncology Certified): Focusing on patients diagnosed with cancer, ACONPs play a critical role in coordinating care and ensuring that oncology treatments remain patient-centered.
  • ACNPG-AC(Adult Gerontology Acute Care): Seniors dealing with major illnesses or injuries often receive care from highly specialized NPs trained to handle acute conditions while remaining sensitive to chronic concerns that might compromise senior patients' health.
  • A-GNP (Adult Gerontology Primary Care): As with an ACNPG-AC, an A-GNP focuses primarily on senior populations. This is a primary care position, however, and therefore emphasizes preventative health via regular checkups. The goal is to manage age-related chronic conditions while preventing severe illness or injury.
  • ENP (Emergency): ENPs typically serve in emergency rooms or other acute-care facilities where they perform life-saving procedures for patients in urgent need of medical attention.
  • FNP(Family): Similar in some respects to certain pediatric NPs, family nurse practitioners are equipped to handle a wide array of health-care concerns and services for young children and adolescents. Unlike pediatric NPs, however, FNPs often also work with adults.
  • NNP (Neonatal): Mothers of newborns often take solace in knowing that the NNPs responsible for postnatal care bring a wealth of knowledge and empathy to the table, as well as a passion for working with the smallest and most vulnerable patients.
  • ONP-C (Orthopedics): As patients recover from surgery or strive to expand mobility, these musculoskeletal-focused NPs provide help and support throughout the entire rehabilitation process.
  • PMHNP-BC (Psychiatric-Mental Health): Often employed in psychiatric hospitals or specialized departments within large facilities, these NPs work with patients diagnosed with a variety of mental health concerns. This specialty can be emotionally demanding, but these NPs are passionate about helping patients in crisis.
  • PPCNP-BC (Pediatric Primary Care): Like the FNPs described above, these NPs work extensively with young patients. They oversee screening, immunizations and other preventative measures to promote optimal health throughout childhood and adolescence.
  • SNP-BC (School): Serving within academic settings, school nurse practitioners provide onsite care for students. They may refer these students to health-care professionals outside the school.
  • WHNP (Women's Health): Serving female patients, WHNPs handle numerous sexual and reproductive concerns. They also play an educational role by providing patients much-needed insight into everything from birth control and fertility to sexually transmitted diseases.

Nursing Specialties & Certifications

NPs are by no means the only nursing professionals to distinguish their areas of specialty with lengthy acronyms. Many nurses with their BSN or MSN seek additional credentials beyond those highlighted above. Examples include:

  • APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nursing): Sometimes confused with nurse practitioners, APRNs have obtained their master's degrees. They may or may not serve as NPs. Many instead work as nurse anesthetists or nurse midwives.
  • CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist): Authorized to administer anesthesia, CRNAs minimize pain and bring comfort to patients before, during and after major medical procedures.
  • CNM (Certified Nurse Midwife): Offering a holistic approach, certified nurse midwives support mothers from conception to birth and as they recover from labor and delivery.
  • CNM (Clinical Nurse Specialist): These APRNs provide specialty care throughout several areas of the health-care industry. As the initialism implies, they typically work in clinical settings to provide expert care for a variety of patients.

Nursing Exams

Nurses spend years preparing for the iconic exam known as the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This is developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCBSN), which is also responsible for certification efforts such as the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) and the Medication Aide Certification Examination (MACE).

Those hoping to advance to the NP level will need to pass additional exams. These are available through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). 

Nursing Organizations and Associations

Nursing acronyms and initialisms encompass not only exams, specialties and certifications, but also several of the organizations responsible for nurse training and oversight. We've already mentioned the NCBSN and their work with the NCLEX, but several specialty organizations also deserve recognition:

  • ANA (American Nurses Association): As one of the most respected nursing organizations, the ANA consists of dozens of member associations, all of which are committed to supporting the nation's millions of registered nurses while improving patient outcomes.
  • AAN (American Academy of Nursing): Focused on research and health policy, the AAN is made up of over 2,800 fellows who are recognized for their inspiring health-care careers and elite academic achievements.
  • AANP (American Association of Nurse Practitioners): This community of nearly 120,000 members empowers NPs through research and advocacy. This is the premier organization representing all types of NPs.
  • AACCN (American Association of Critical Care Nurses): This vast organization represents and supports specialty nurses who provide acute-care services.
  • NSNA (National Student Nurses Association): Devoted to future nurses, the NSNA plays a key role in shaping the next generation of health-care professionals.
  • SPN (Society of Pediatric Nurses): Committed to improving standards of care on a broad scale, this organization supports and empowers a variety of passionate pediatric nurses. 

Take the Next Step: Gain New Nursing Acronyms with Husson University

Given the vast range of acronyms present within the nursing profession, it's important to clarify what, exactly, you wish to accomplish and which degrees or certifications will help you meet your professional goals.

As you explore a wealth of professional opportunities, look to Husson University to help you add an essential initialism to your resume: your MSN. Contact us today to learn more about our nursing programs and how they can take your health-care career to the next level.

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