Know the Lingo: Top Nursing Terms to Learn

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You’ll have a lot to take in during your time in nursing school — including terms you may hear with which you aren’t familiar. What do these mystery expressions mean? We’ve got you covered. Below is a list of key terms you’ll want to know for your nursing school career and beyond.

Banana bag

Medical professionals refer to yellow-colored IV-fluid bags by this name. Their yellow color, resembling a banana, is derived from the nutrients included, such as Vitamin B1, folate, saltwater, sugar, and multivitamins.


This word is the abbreviation for “tachycardia,” which means fast heart rate. Saying someone is “tachy” means the individual has an elevated heartrate or their heart is beating too fast.


This word is used when narcotics are left-over after administering a dose to a patient. Most hospitals have policies regarding wasted narcotics that require an authorized staff member to watch as wasted narcotics are discarded.


This medical term refers to when a patient cannot produce a bowel movement. Prolonged periods without a bowel movement may lead to tissue death or an abdominal infection. Nurses are especially worried about ileus after a patient has abdominal surgery.

Code blue

Healthcare providers will use this term in a medical emergency, often a cardiac arrest, requiring immediate attention from a team of healthcare providers.


This term refers to patients who need minimal nursing care in a hospital. These patients are often at the end of their hospital stay and can usually go to the bathroom by themselves, feed themselves, and are at low fall-risk. While some are waiting to be discharged, others still need help, such as having nurses bring medication to their bedsides.


Nurses refer to patients that require maximum total nursing care by this name. Because these patients cannot do many things on their own, they often require IV fluids or feeding bags, a breathing tube, a urinary catheter to help drain their urine, and more.


This term refers to the urine collection pan that can be placed on top of a toilet bowl. Nurses use this vessel to measure the urine output of patients. These measurements are crucial so nurses can determine how the body and organs of a patient with kidney problems or heart failure are doing.


This acronym is a simple way to remember “airway, breathing, circulation,” the order in which nurses access and prioritize unresponsive or unconscious patients.


This acronym is a Latin abbreviation for “nothing by mouth.” NPO is often written on a sign outside a patients’ door or on top of the hospital bed to remind staff not to give the patient anything to eat by mouth.


This acronym stands for “within normal limit,” a short-term way for nurses to chart a patient’s lab results or condition, especially in electronic health records (EHRs).


This acronym means “out of bed” and is used with patients needing help getting out of bed. Some patients also have to be reminded to get OOB and move their muscles instead of resting all day.


This acronym is the short version of the Latin phrase “pro re nata,” meaning “as needed” or “when necessary.”

Ad lib

This term means “as desired” and is often used to describe the flexibility of patients in terms of activity, rest, food, etc.

Frequent flyer

These types of patients are those that repeatedly visit the emergency room or are repeatedly hospitalized. They are often recognized by regular staff.


This patient is often elderly and suffers from dementia. “Sundowning” refers to feelings of agitation, confusion, delusion, and hallucination that occur to elderly patients with dementia after the sun goes down.

This list is by no means an exhaustive catalog of all the terms you’ll hear in nursing school and your career. Knowing these terms, however, may give you an advantage in your classes this semester.

For more ways to be successful throughout your nursing school career, check out this section of our blog.

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