Ever wonder what a lot of those nursing abbreviations and acronyms mean? Find out here!

Nursing abbreviations and acronyms can often look like a goofy game of Scrabble to the untrained eye.

Healthcare professionals have a lot of medical terms and titles to keep track of, so keeping all those phrases short and sweet helps keep things moving along.

They might all seem overwhelming, but the good news is we can separate many of the most common ones into a few buckets:

  • Nursing title abbreviations
  • Education-related nursing abbreviations
  • Nursing professions

We’ll stick to the essential ones for now, but you’ll learn a whole lot more if you choose to pursue a nursing career. So let’s dive into some nursing abbreviations!

Licensed Nursing Abbreviations

While there are many different nursing specializations to choose from, the nursing profession has three core licensure tiers. Each one depends on a nurse’s education level, something else we’ll cover.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

LPNs help patients with their most basic healthcare needs. Their employment opportunities include hospitals, physician’s offices, and long-term care facilities. 

LPN responsibilities usually include checking vitals, giving patients medication, and changing bandages. In the case of long-term care, also they often help clean and feed their patients as well as help them move safely around and exercise.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Licensed RNs have received more comprehensive education than their LPN counterparts. And, of course, with higher learning comes more significant responsibilities and employment opportunities!

RNs take on more complicated duties than LPNs, including diagnostic testing, documenting medical records, and other complex procedures. They also often assume a leadership role over LPNs, delegating appropriate tasks.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Lastly, we have the cream of the nursing crop with APRNs. While not fully-fledged physicians, many APRNs are vital in helping patients with unique health needs and collaborating with and leading other nurses.

APRNs pursue a graduate-level education that they can apply to a specific area, including but not limited to forensics, anesthesiology, or working as a clinical nurse specialist. Some APRNs even leverage their medical expertise to pivot into other sophisticated professions, such as law or education.

Education-Related Nursing Abbreviations

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of nursing degree programs, let’s talk about the acronym elephant in the room: the NCLEX.

The NCLEX, or National Council Licensure Examination, is a test every nursing student must pass to earn their RN license. This computerized exam measures your nursing competencies and critical thinking skills by adapting to your answers in real-time.

Undergraduate degree programs will prepare you to take the NCLEX and allow you to pursue more advanced education if you so choose.

Every nursing role has minimum education requirements. So once you’ve settled on your future nursing career, you’ll need to enroll in the appropriate degree program. Speaking of which, let’s break some of those down.

Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ASN)

An ASN is a degree program that usually takes two years to complete. It will prepare you to take the NCLEX to earn an RN license and pursue more lucrative employment options than LPNs.

Many ASN grads pursue further education to open more doors to advanced career options.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A BSN prepares nursing students to serve in a wide variety of healthcare settings and roles, which even extends to supervising entry-level nurses. In fact, a majority of American nurses today have gone on to receive their BSN.

Lots of exciting opportunities await BSN graduates, including work in the military, educational settings, leadership positions, research, and case management. 

A traditional BSN program takes four years to complete, but accelerated programs are also available.  

A BSN is also a prerequisite for nursing graduate programs, so it is the natural first step for anyone who wishes to maximize their nursing career potential.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

As the most popular graduate-level nursing degree, an MSN program gets each nurse ready for one of many highly-qualified APRN positions.

Nursing students who pursue an MSN will often emphasize a specific practice, like a Master of Science in Nursing in Public Health, for example. These programs can last two to three years, depending on the focus.

Each student’s coursework and clinical requirements will typically reflect whatever specialization they choose. An MSN is also required to pursue most DNP degrees or a Ph.D. in Nursing.  

Many MSN degree holders become nurse practitioners focusing on areas like pediatrics, cancer treatment, or mental health. 

Since 2018, the need for nurse practitioners has sharply increased across the United States. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics actually expects to see a whopping 28 percent increase in demand for nurse practitioners by 2028.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

MSN graduates who want to take their talents all the way to the top of their clinical field may enroll in a DNP degree program.

A DNP is a terminal degree, meaning it is the highest level of education you can receive in your chosen nursing specialty. Think of it as one of the final bosses of nursing degree programs (the other being a Ph.D. in Nursing).  

That means DNP graduates are elite experts in nursing care ranging from clinical practices to specialized healthcare. DNP programs take three years to complete.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing

A Ph.D. in Nursing can qualify you for the most significant leadership, teaching, and medical research positions in the nursing profession. You can earn most of these terminal degrees in four years, but some programs can be longer, depending on your specialty.

Ph.D. in Nursing programs mainly focus on research that helps advance nursing as a science, including developing new knowledge in nursing science. That includes completing a dissertation, a very lengthy research project around nursing theories.

This degree qualifies you for powerful positions at the top of the nursing tree, such as a nurse administrator for a hospital or a healthcare consultant in the private or public sector. A nurse with a Ph.D. can also pursue research careers in academic, business, government, or industrial settings. 

Nursing Profession Abbreviations

Seeing a collection of available nurse specialties is when nursing abbreviations can really start to look like alphabet soup. 

With such an incredible range of career choices in nursing, we could be here all day if we covered them all. So we’ll focus on a few exciting positions in the profession. As a bonus, you’ll also see several nursing organizations sprinkled throughout this section!

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

The majority of MSN and DNP degree holders with a nurse practitioner specialization pursue family practice. Therefore, these specialists are known as Family Nurse Practitioners.

However, your path to becoming an FNP doesn’t end after graduation. You must also pass an exam to get certified by a recognized national board, like the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

FNPs are jacks of all trades in general wellness and acute medical conditions, treating patients of all ages, from birth to old age. They can diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication, and give holistic medical advice. So if you’ve ever heard someone talk about their “family doctor,” it’s very possible they’re talking about an FNP!

Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)

As you may have guessed from the name, Clinical Nurse Leaders supervise nursing teams, usually in larger healthcare organizations like hospitals.

CNLs are responsible for a wide range of managerial functions and team oversight. They also collaborate with other healthcare professionals to help with comprehensive patient care and develop new training initiatives.

The CNL role is relatively new, created by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in 2003 after they saw rising demand for qualified nursing facilitators. Like FNPs, these specialists must gain additional certification after earning their graduate-level degree.

Oncology Certified Nurse (ONC)

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, so there is a significant need for Oncology Certified Nurses in hospitals and clinics.

ONCs are registered nurses who have been certified by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) after they’ve gained the appropriate experience.

ONCs often act as essential contact points for people fighting their diseases, forming close relationships with patients and their families. In addition, they help manage their patient’s symptoms and provide as much physical and emotional comfort as possible.

These healthcare professionals are so vital to their field that national cancer organizations and nonprofit foundations have dedicated an entire month to recognize their efforts!

Ready to Master Nursing Abbreviations? 

Nursing abbreviations and acronyms can be intimidating at first glance, but if you love to learn, then you can grasp them quickly.

If you’re ready to take the lead in this rewarding profession, check out our nursing programs at Davis & Elkins College! Our talented nursing instructors would love to invest in you and help you grow as a future leader in the nursing profession.

Our state-of-the-art facilities provide dynamic hands-on learning for students who want to lead the way, and we connect you with local healthcare professionals who will support you from day one.

Join a professional community that’s unlike any other in the world. Reach out to us today for more information