Travel Nursing Guides and Resources

Cracking the Code: Making Sense of Common Medical Abbreviations and Terms in Nursing

Audrey McCollough, RN, BSN
June 23, 2023
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As travel nurses or allied health professionals, we've all been there: trying to make sense of the sea of abbreviations and jargon that comprise our everyday lingo. Maybe you’ve just taken a new travel job, or maybe you’re a new grad nurse just getting started.  

Whether it's in patient documentation or chatter amongst the healthcare team, these shortcuts can help you make sense of a situation! We're here to help you navigate through some of the most common medical terms and abbreviations you'll encounter in the healthcare setting.

Let's dive in!


“WNL” is a medical abbreviation that stands for “within normal limits”, or no abnormalities.  This indicates that everything is as it should be.  When you see "Neuro: WNL" in the medical record, it means that the neurological assessment didn't reveal any issues. It's a handy way to keep things short and sweet in the documentation.


“Tachy” is a medical term that is short for “tachycardia”, which simply means a faster than normal heart rate. It's more of a spoken term, often used when we're rushing to stabilize a patient. Saying, "The patient is tachy", is a quick way to communicate crucial info about the patient's condition.


Direct opposite of “tachy”, “brady” is short for “bradycardia”.  When a patient is bradycardic, that means that their heart beat is beating slower than expected.  


“OOB” is a medical abbreviation that means “out of bed” and is something we aim for with all of our patients.  Getting a patient out of bed helps improve their wellbeing and prevents complications of immobility, like bed sores or pneumonia. You'll often see it written as "OOB to chair" or "OOB, Ambulating", indicating the patient was helped to sit in a chair or take a walk in the hallway.


“ADL" is shorthand for "Activities of Daily Living", which refers to basic daily tasks like eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, and moving about the home. Our role as healthcare providers is to help patients with their ADLs while they recover and ultimately get back to their daily routines.

Ad Lib, or Up Ad Lib

“Ad lib" comes from the Latin phrase "ad libitum," which means "as desired". This can be applied to a variety of things, but an example of when you’ll see this is when a patient is recovering from surgery and they've progressed to the point where they can move about freely, you'll see "up ad lib" in their orders. This means the patient is now allowed to get out of bed whenever they want.


"PRN" is another Latin-derived term, short for "pro re nata". It translates to "as needed". You'll see it when medications are prescribed to be taken only when needed, like Ibuprofen 200mg PRN for back pain. In healthcare staffing, PRN means a flexible schedule where the clinician works when needed, rather than a set schedule, allowing for great work-life balance.


"NPO", or "nil per os", is Latin for "nothing by mouth". It's used when a patient is not supposed to eat or drink anything, often before surgery or when they have a device that prevents normal chewing or swallowing. 


“STAT” is an abbreviation that you may hear spoken or documented in the healthcare setting.  "STAT", from the Latin "statim", means "immediately". It's used when something needs to be done right away, like a lab test that should be taken STAT.

Take Your Skills on the Road with Trusted

Looking to put your knowledge to the test and continue growing your medical vocabulary? At Trusted, we're all about supporting your journey of learning and growth. Travel with us, and you'll not only expand your clinical skills and experiences, but you'll also have the opportunity to make a significant impact on people's lives. Whether you're an experienced traveler or just beginning to explore the thrilling world of travel healthcare, we're with you every step of the way. Sign up now to travel with Trusted!

Audrey McCollough, RN, BSN

Audrey McCollough, RN, BSN, is a pediatric critical care nurse who traded her scrubs for a laptop to come work internally at Trusted two years ago. With eight years of critical care experience and four years of travel nursing under her belt, Audrey now uses her experience and expertise to support others in the healthcare industry, particularly her fellow nurses. When she's not at work, Audrey loves to explore the great outdoors! Hiking, skiing, or just soaking up nature's beauty - Audrey is all about it.

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