Alphamedical Soup

Swimming through the sea of medical abbreviations.


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Healthcare is now the largest industry in our economy, with more than 14 million medical professionals. From surgeons, dentists, and physicians to certified nurse practitioners and psychopharmacologists, healthcare comprises myriad professions—each with its own sea of confusing abbreviations and subtle, but important, distinctions in levels of training and capabilities. And who has the time or energy to ask what those letters following the name of the person treating you actually mean? Here, we break them down for you, one string of letters at a time.


TitleEducationWhat do they do?What don't they do?
Registered Nurse

2-year registered nursing program or 4-year bachelor’s degree nursing program

Usually serve in a supervisory position, overseeing LPNs and CNAs

Implement and execute physician’s care and treatment orders

Diagnose and treat basic health problems

Start IVs or administer blood transfusions

Make initial clinical assessments, including physical examination and medical history

Prescribe medication

Nurse Practitioner

An RN who has additionally completed either a master’s program in nursing or other postgraduate work in a specialty area

Advanced education in assessment and care-planning

Perform physical exams, order lab tests

Diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications within specialty area of practice

Patient assessment to determine a plan of care

Administer vaccinations

Order and interpret lab tests and X-rays

Manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure

Licensed Practical Nurse

High school diploma

At least a 9-month practical nursing study

Provide primary bedside care

Prescribe medication

Start IVs and administer blood transfusions

Make clinical assessments

Certified Nursing Assistant

High school diploma

Completion of a minimum 75-hour nursing-assistant training program

Provide basic, daily care of patients such as assistance with grooming, bathing, and eating

Measure vital signs

Prescribe medicine

Diagnose or treat an illness or injury

Perform health care assessments


Continue reading for medical abbreviations for Physicians & Assistants, Eye Care, and Mental Health



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