Medical TerminologyMedical Terminology

The medical profession uses specialized or technical language unique to the field that may not be understood by people outside of medicine. The use of informal words and expressions, as well as abbreviations, is common in the medical setting. International medical graduates (IMGs) who enter U.S. GME positions will find that there are many terms that are particular to U.S. medicine. These terms, which we call “Medicalese,” may be initially confusing even if you trained in a country where the language of instruction is English or are fluent in English.

ECFMG has developed this glossary of “Medicalese” to help orient you to terminology commonly used by doctors, nurses, and other medical staff in U.S. hospitals and clinics. It is our hope that this glossary will facilitate your understanding of these terms when they are used by others.

Note that the table below includes several abbreviations or acronyms. These are included because they are often spoken as such. However, it may be better, especially for those new to “Medicalese,” to say the complete term in order to avoid any confusion.

It is important to understand that some of the slang, abbreviations, and jargon commonly used within medical practice might sound insensitive to patients or their families. These terms, therefore, should not be used in situations where they may be overheard.

A-D | E-L | M-R | S-Z

Term Definition
A. fib atrial fibrillation
ABG arterial blood gas
AMA against medical advice; a way of leaving the hospital
bag to breathe for the patient artificially using a hand-operated device called an ambu-bag
BAL blood alcohol level
banana bag intravenous infusion bag containing multivitamins (appears yellow)
bili bilirubin
bladder scan a bedside ultrasound to measure the amount of residual urine
blow to destroy a vein while trying to insert an IV
BMP basic metabolic panel (electrolytes and renal function)
boarders patients from other services occupying beds on the team’s ward or floor
boo-boo / owee what children may call an injury
bounce back patient returns to service from which he or she had recently been discharged or transferred
BP blood pressure
brady / brady down slowing heart rate
bronch (pronounced bronk) perform a bronchoscopy
bugs germs; infecting organisms (bacteria, viruses, etc.)
bump to increase the dose of a drug
CABG (pronounced cabbage) coronary artery bypass graft
CAD coronary artery disease
call 1) night or weekend duty at the hospital; also, "call night," "call schedule," etc.

2) short for judgment call; decision in which there is no clearly right answer
call a code to initiate or announce the start of a patient resuscitation effort
capacity a patient’s decision-making ability
cath catheterization
CBC complete blood count
Cdiff clostridium difficile
Chem-7 same as basic metabolic panel (electrolytes and renal function)
CHF congestive heart failure
code to use full emergency measures to resuscitate a patient who has suffered a heart or breathing stoppage; also, a noun referring to the process
consent [a patient] go through the consent process with a patient in order to obtain his/her signed consent
CPS Child Protective Services
crash sudden, rapid, and often unanticipated deterioration of a patient
crash cart a cart on wheels that contains all drugs, equipment, and devices for managing cardiac arrest and other emergencies that is brought to the patient’s bedside
crit hematocrit
C-section cesarean section
C-spine / T-spine / L-spine cervical, thoracic, or lumbar spine
D&C dilatation and curettage
D/C 1) discontinue

2) discharge

(Note: It is critical to distinguish between these two meanings.)
de-sating decreasing oxygen saturation
dispo disposition
DNR do not resuscitate; a designation unofficially or in some cases officially given to patients who are not to receive heroic measures (not to be coded) in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest
DOA dead on arrival
doc common term of address or referral for physicians by patients and medical staff
DOE dyspnea on exertion
DVT deep venous thrombosis

Back to top

Term Definition
ED / ER Emergency Department or Emergency Room
EKG / ECG electrocardiogram
EMS Emergency Medical Services (the ambulance and rescue system); see Fire Rescue
EMT Emergency Medical Technician
EOM extraocular movement
eyeball to examine visually
Fire Rescue medical emergency response service; see EMS
frequent flyer a patient who has frequent admissions to the hospital or to the Emergency Department
GI cocktail a combination of medications to treat gastric distress, variable by institution
GSW gunshot wound
H&H hemoglobin and hematocrit
H&P a history and physical examination of a patient
high under the influence of narcotics or other mood/mind altering drugs
I&D incision and drainage
I&O measurement of fluid intake and output
keep an eye on watchful waiting, continued observation
Lap Choly laparoscopic cholecystectomy
line intravenous access
LOC loss of consciousness
LP lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
LWBS left without being seen
lytes electrolytes

Back to top

Term Definition
M&M morbidity and mortality
Met metastasis
MI myocardial infarction
migraine cocktail a combination of medications to treat migraine headaches, variable by institution
MVA motor vehicle accident
neb medicate nebulizer treatment
orthopods, pods orthopedists
out unresponsive
out of it confused
pace regulate or provide a heart rhythm by applying an artificial pacemaker
PCP / PMD primary care provider or primary physician
PE pulmonary embolism
PEG / PEG tube percutaneous gastrostomy used for enteral feeding
PET scan positron emission tomography
PICC line peripherally inserted central venous catheter – long catheter percutaneous
PND paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea
preemie a prematurely born baby
prepped prepared for a procedure
pulse ox pulse oximetry
round briefly evaluate each patient on a service by physically visiting the patient at the bedside, reviewing his or her progress, and planning further management
ROS review of the respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurologic systems
run the list review updated diagnostic results, clinical course, and treatment plans for all patients on a service, on a patient-by-patient basis

Back to top

Term Definition
sharps needles, scalpels, IV catheters - anything that could be contaminated and needs to be placed in a sharps container before disposal
shock defibrillate or cardiovert a patient by applying paddles to the patient’s chest to deliver a charge
shot injection
SOB shortness of breath
soft admission patient for whom the need for admission is questionable
STAT immediately, as opposed to routine
step down monitored setting, not as intensive as the ICU
STD / STI sexually transmitted disease / sexually transmitted infection
sundowning tendency of altered or demented patients to become agitated as night falls
through and through a gunshot wound that has both an entrance and an exit wound
TM tympanic membrane or “ear drum”
tox screen blood test to determine what drugs are in a patient’s system
trach (pronounced trake) perform a tracheostomy
tracks needle marks usually from IV drug abuse
triage the system of prioritizing patients in an emergency situation in which there are a great number of injured or ill
triple-A abdominal aortic aneurysm
tube intubate
turf transfer the patient to another service
V. fib ventricular fibrillation
vent a mechanical ventilator
WNL within normal limits
zonked, zonked out heavily sedated, asleep

Back to top