In all professions, from car repair to accounting, practitioners use standard terminology to understand one another. A “sputtering engine” will get treated differently than a “dirty carburetor,” and accrual basis accounting looks very different from cash basis accounting.  

The same is true in the medical field of nursing. One of the things nurses need to familiarize themselves with is the Specific nursing terminology—vocabulary or lingo used frequently by practicing nurses. These are used to describe medical terms and scenarios that, while very familiar to nurses, would likely leave people outside the healthcare field scratching their heads. 

So, before you hand in your application to a travel nurse recruiter or other travel healthcare companies, read this short guide. We’ll cover the importance of standardized nursing jargon and a few of the most interesting and useful terms.

What is Standardized Terminology? 

Remember taking the SAT or Standardized Achievement Test? For some of us nervous test-takers, the only comfort was that everyone was taking the same test.

That’s what standardized means: “conforming to a standard.” 

  • How often have you heard in your life, “on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate this experience?” So many times, you automatically know that one is the lowest rating and ten is the highest. 
  • Similarly, everyone knows the best review you can get on Yelp or Amazon is five stars. Why? Because the 5-star system and 1 to 10 scale are standardized measurements generally accepted by everyone. 

In the clinical sciences, standardized terminology or clinical care classification systems provide one set of established, recommended terms that have been agreed upon and disseminated by a group of experts.

Why Are Standardized Nursing Terminologies Important? 

Nurses deliver care that can save a person’s life.

When the stakes involve critical patient health, it becomes essential that key nursing medical terminology is easily understood by the various healthcare professionals that may administer care to the same patient at different times.1 

Whether you’re in a long-term or temporary nursing position, the ultimate goal is to ensure a high level of patient care. Quick, clear, effective communication is necessary to facilitate that. 

Standardized nursing language or clinical care classification systems are critical so that the following can be accurately recorded: 

  • Client assessments
  • Diagnoses of Disease
  • Medical history 
  • Current medications
  • Care
  • Outcomes
  • Comprehensive long-term strategies

Without one standard form of communication to convey all of the above information, the level of nursing care risks becoming inefficient, or worse, contradictory and ineffective. 

That’s why it’s vital that advanced practice nurses have a strong understanding of standardized nursing medical terminology. If they cannot decipher a patient’s record, or use nursing “shorthand” to convey patient needs to a coworker quickly , how well will they be doing their job? 

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What Are Nursing Terminologies?

So, now that we know why standardized nursing practice terms are so important to proper patient care, let’s get into some of the most commonly used terms. 

Terms to Describe Patients

While every patient is unique, it’s helpful to have a standardized language and shorthand to describe common medical conditions and emotional states. This way, other nurses and healthcare practitioners can get a quick portrait of a clinical situation.2

  • She’s “tachy” – Although it’s pronounced the same as “tacky” it means something quite different in a nursing setting. Tachy is short for “tachycardia,” which means having a faster than usual heart rate. So if you ever hear a registered nurse describe you as “tachy,” rest assured, they’re talking about your elevated heart rate, not your overall sense of style. 
  • Dyscopia – While this may sound like a medical diagnosis, it’s actually shorthand for a patient’s emotional reaction. “Dyscopia” refers to difficulty coping. This term alerts nurses to the need for extra compassion and care in patient interactions.
  • Frequent flyer – This term refers to a patient who visits the Emergency Room often and may be recognized by the regular staff. 
  • Walkie-talkie – Nope, it’s not the small handheld device that helps you talk to people in other rooms. In nursing, a walkie-talkie one of the recognized terminologies and it describes a patient who is mobile and communicative (walking and talking) and who needs minimal bedside care. Often this person is close to being discharged from the hospital. 
  • Rotator – Sure, the rotator cuff is part of the shoulder joint, but in this case, nurses are usually referring to a patient with a complex and demanding case. Such a patient may need to be “rotated” to a different nurse each day (or every few days) to help alleviate burnout.

Terms to Ensure Appropriate Care

Likewise, nurses have special terms they can use to request assistance or alert other any healthcare provider to an essential directive.

  • Can I get a “waste”? – Nurses are authorized to administer narcotics to patients as prescribed. Sometimes, however, the narcotics will be given in a dosage that exceeds the patient’s needs. In these cases, a registered nurse will need to “waste,” or get rid of, unused narcotics in accordance with the hospital or clinic policy. 

“Waste” in this instance refers to another licensed nurse or pharmacist who witnesses the proper disposal—and documentation of said disposal—of the partially used narcotics to ensure no misuse or “diversion” of narcotics takes place.  

  • NPO – Derived from the Latin “Nil Per Os,” this common nursing term means “nothing by mouth.” This directive can be seen posted at the top of a patient’s chart or by the door to their room as a visual reminder they are not to be given anything to eat by mouth.

This is to prevent undigested food or fluid in a patient’s stomach from being aspirated during surgery while under anesthesia. 

  • Banana bag – This yellow-colored IV fluid bag containing vitamin B1, vitamin B9, sugar, salt, and multivitamin (which gives it its distinctive hue) is commonly used to treat alcohol withdrawal patients. If you hear a nurse say, “Get me a banana bag,” you’ll know they need this nutrient-dense, yellow bag of fluid. 
  • Code brown – It is one of the most recognized terminologies by any medical professional. Where code red refers to cardiopulmonary arrest, code brown is used to describe an emergency incident of the bowels. Nurses may yell “code brown” to signal to co-workers that they need extra gloves, sheets, cloths, or diapers to handle a patient accident. 

Nursing Careers and Roles

Within the nursing profession, there are a variety of different ranks and roles. Standardized terminology is used to differentiate between these nursing professionals.

  • Nurse practitioner – A nurse practitioner or NP has undergone advanced training and certification. NPs can independently see, diagnose, and plan courses of treatment for patients. They can also prescribe medication. In this case, their role is similar to a medical doctor’s, and NPs often have leadership positions in team nursing settings.
  • Head nurse or team leader – Team nursing is a model where nurses collaborate on patient treatment, all under the guidance of a head nurse. A head nurse is typically an experienced RN or NP with strong communication skills. They facilitate patient care to their team of nurses, prioritizing the most difficult patients with the most experienced nurses.
  • Travel nurse – A more recent development in the healthcare field that grew out of the nursing shortage, a travel nurse is a skilled healthcare professional who travels to hospitals to fill gaps in their staffing needs for short periods. 

This can be a desirable choice for nurses with a sense of adventure or who find themselves as empty nesters, as it typically offers a flexible schedule, high pay, and free or reduced-price housing along with an opportunity to explore a new geographic area.3 

And with the emergence of travel nursing agencies like Host Healthcare that do the behind-the-scenes legwork of finding appropriate nursing assignments across the U.S. (and negotiating pay and benefits), becoming a traveler is easier than ever. 

Benefits of Standardized Nursing Terminology

Beyond facilitating clear, concise communication among nurses, standardized nursing terminology enables health care professionals to both receive and send patient data with minimal misinterpretation. 

For example, when nurses who are proficient in standard nursing terminology need to obtain patient data from an electronic health record (EHR), they can interpret the information more quickly than nurses who lack familiarity with the standard medical terms. 

This proficiency improves both the immediate care provided and the formation of long-term nursing care strategies. It raises the level of clinical operations and can lead to better patient outcomes. Minimizing confusion and delays, standardized nursing terminology is a win-win for everyone involved. 

Next Steps For Nurses 

So what if you’re dedicated and eager to help people, well-versed in recognized nursing terminologies, but are hesitating to enter into a long-term commitment with your local care facility? If you find yourself with an itch to explore unique opportunities or alleviate some of the stress from your current workplace, one option is to become a traveling nurse and take your command of nursing terminology on the road.

With Host Healthcare, you’ll be provided with a personal career consultant and 24-hour emergency support when needed. This care and dedication to our Travelers have earned us the title of #1 Travel Healthcare Company in the U.S. 

If you’d like to learn more, apply to become a traveler and start a no-pressure conversation with one of our friendly recruiters.  



  1. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Standardized Nursing Language: What Does It Mean for Nursing Practice? i
  2. Business Insider. Nurses reveal the meaning of code words they use that patients don’t understand.
  3. Rasmussen. 10 Benefits of Being a Traveling Nurse.