How Good Is Your Nursing Vocabulary?


By: Kathryn Davis

6 Min Quiz

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About This Quiz

Much of the language commonly used in hospitals, private practices and emergency rooms are medical terms. People who aren't well-versed in the field would hear many of these medical terms and shorthand as confusing jargon! It's the real pros who can take part in a medical conversation like it's their native language.

With thousands of terms descended mainly from Latin and Greek roots, a solid medical vocabulary can be a really tough thing to master. But when you spend your days in high-pressure medical situations, you just have to know what your fellow nurses and doctors are telling you! The situation is literally "do or die." That's part of why medical jobs are so high-stress and specialized; they're no joke.

From "code blue" to "febrile" to "gastroenteritis," a medical facility of any kind requires a vocabulary and a literacy all its own, and mastering it is a bit like learning a second language. If you work as a nurse now, or even if you live with a nurse, you may feel confident that your own nursing vocabulary is pretty well-honed. But when it comes down to it, could your nursing vocabulary get you by on the hospital floor?

Jump into this quiz to test just how good your nursing vocabulary is!

What's a "gait belt"?

A gait belt can be used in a lot of situations. Whether a person is being transferred from a bed to a wheelchair, from one bed to another or on any other transfer, it's used to help mobility-impaired patients to get from place to place.


A patient is in critical condition, with possible brain damage, multiple fractures and "hemorrhaging." How would one define "hemorrhaging?

Any time excessive amounts of blood are escaping through non-intact blood vessels, we refer to this as "hemorrhaging." If a person is hemorrhaging internally or externally, the issue must be resolved as quickly as possible.


A patient taken from a car accident scene was brought into the ER on a "gurney." What, exactly, does this mean they were brought in on?

Most gurneys are made of lightweight materials, including canvas and tubing, that allow medical staff to transport patients from one place to the next. The stretcher's wheels make it an especially convenient choice.


If a sample is being sent to the "urinalysis" lab, what sort of sample is it?

Urine samples are sent to urinalysis labs in order to be tested for a variety of things, including drug use, STDs, diabetes, other metabolic issues, kidney infections and much more.


Describe what an "abscess" is.

An abscess is a collection of pus beneath the skin; it can be caused by a number of things and can appear anywhere on the body. They're often painful, although there's not usually any sort of wound associated.


You have to explain to a patient that they've been found to be suffering from "apnea." According to this, what are they suffering from?

Apnea is a temporary lapse in breathing, often involuntarily during sleep, but also when holding one's breath, choking or any other pause in breathing. Symptoms include snoring, especially when it's notably loud, gasping for air in sleep and dry mouth, and the most obvious symptom is when other people note periods during sleep when the person stops breathing.


What are "nits"?

Nits are often more easily-detected than lice themselves, as they stay still enough to be seen. The eggs attach to the hair strand itself and take around seven to ten days to hatch.


A patient who's moved to lie flat on their stomach is said to be in what sort of position?

Patients are placed in the prone position for a number of reasons, including an increase in oxygenation and lung function. The word prone itself comes from the Latin "pronous," which refers to being bent forward.


"Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation" is more commonly referred to as what?

CPR is the practice of restoring an individual's breath after they've ceased breathing. This involves chest compressions and ventilation ("mouth-to-mouth" or even a mechanical method) and is, as the name suggests, usually employed after a cardiac event.


This word, also the title of a section in most marching bands, refers to the act of tapping a body part in order to elicit vibrations or muscular reactions.

Often meant with regards to use of a small percussion hammer, "percussion" can happen anywhere on the body that a professional would like to use in order to gauge reflexes or vibrations.


What's the term for a painful and involuntary twitching and seizing of the muscles?

Spasms often happen as a result of tension or poor alignment of weight on certain muscle groups. Most spasms are muscle cramps and therefore harmless, but some can have underlying causes that should be addressed.


What's an "ulcer"?

Ulcers are open sores, either inside or outside the body, which cause excruciating and gradual destruction of surrounding tissues. It's likely most people are familiar with peptic ulcers, which is a sore located in the stomach lining.


What's a "biopsy"?

Biopsies are performed by cutting away growths or tissues in order to be tested for causes or roots of illnesses or strange symptoms throughout the body. Common biopsy sites include the liver, lung, bone and breast, though there are many others.


Define "voiding" in the context of medical care.

"Voiding" in medical contexts refers to any time some sort of bodily waste is cast out of the body. This includes functions like urination, micturation and eliminating solid waste as well.


If something is a "cardiovascular issue," it has to do with what?

A cardiovascular issue is very serious; it directly concerns the heart, blood and vein systems. Cardiovascular issues often call for emergency attention. An example of an ongoing cardiovascular issue is heart disease.


What does it mean if something in the body is "benign"?

A benign finding in the body poses no real risk to a patient's health; it's unlikely to progress or become dangerous. The word "benign" comes from the Latin word "benignus," meaning "good" and/or "kind."


If someone is lying on their side, they're said to be:

If a patient (or anything else) is lying on its side or if it moves in an east-west position, it's lateral. Think "Latitude versus longitude"; lines of latitude cut the globe from east to west!


A patient comes in to have a checkup regarding their "epilepsy." What are their symptoms likely to be?

Epilepsy is a disease that's characterized by frequent seizures and convulsions. It's a disorder of the nervous system and can be difficult to predict or control, and it's one of the five most common neurological disorders.


The medical code "blue" often refers to what?

There are many codes that might be used in a hospital, though a few are standard. "Code blue" typically alerts other hospital staff of an emergency involving cardiac or respiratory arrest.


The common term "IV" is an acronym for what full medical term?

Although it's most commonly referred to as an "IV," an intravenous tube is the device used to administer liquid medications to patients directly into their veins. Infusions use gravity to supply the pressure used to deliver the fluid and are often called "drips," whereas injections use higher-pressured syringes to deliver medication.


Any element of a sickness or procedure that results in a setback of a patient's recovery is known as what?

Often, we think of medical complications as negative results of surgery or other procedures. They can be fatal, or merely disappointing; either way, complications are a serious part of nursing life.


Which of the following medical professionals typically works in an emergency room?

While ophthalmologists, oncologists and podiatrists are crucial medical professionals, they're specialists and don't typically perform emergency intervention, unlike surgeons. Surgeons can actually specialize in many fields, but emergency medicine does require a general surgeon.


You have to explain to a patient that the tumor the doctors have found is "malignant." What does this mean?

A malignant tumor is one that is cancerous and will likely worsen. Malignant tumors are dangerous in that they metastasize (or spread to other areas), and their cells multiply at faster rates than non-malignant tumors.


"Febrile" is a word used to describe what?

"Febrile" is a word used to describe a person suffering from a fever. There is no universal standard for when a person's temperature may be exactly "febrile," but generally it's diagnosed between 99.5 and 100.9 °F.


Which word refers to the act of using a pillow or towel to provide support along a line of sutures?

When a line of sutures is fresh, it's often a good idea to support the seam with a large pillow or towel to prevent any strain on the area and to promote ideal healing. Splints are also often used to immobilize and support broken bones.


What's an "acute disease"?

Acute diseases only affect patients for brief periods of time before they're gone. They differ from chronic illnesses because they typically leave the body completely soon after they arrive.


A patient asks their loved one's "prognosis." What do they want to know?

If a patient or family member asks for a prognosis, they're asking for information on your team's plan, and they're asking for the chances of recovery. Generally, people will have either a good or bad prognosis.


Which of the following terms refers to positioning a patient upright so their legs hang over the side of the bed with their feet on the floor?

The regulation of "dangling" is in the practice of helping patients to rise from a sitting or lying position. Asking patients to pause in the sitting (or dangling) position before standing ensures a slow, careful transition.


If a patient is being given "general anesthesia," what are they being administered?

General anesthesia blocks pain throughout the body for major procedures, unlike local anesthesia, which is contained to one specific part of the body and doesn't cause the patient to lose consciousness, which general anesthesia often does.


What is an "endoscope" used for?

An endoscope is a tube-shaped, lighted device used to probe hollow body parts and body cavities; there are loads of varieties of endoscope, including kinds that are rigid (which might be used to examine a joint) and softer (which might be used to examine the colon).


How would a person look when assuming Fowler's position?

Fowler's position is designed to help the body release tension and to improve airflow through the lungs. It's a generally relaxed and natural position for most patients. There are several types of the position that can be achieved by adjusting the head of the bed's elevation.


If a level within the body has reached a stable equilibrium, it's said to be at ____.

When levels are steady at one level, it means they're unchanging. Depending on the context and levels being measured, this may be a positive or negative thing; the word itself means lack of change.


If a person is "anemic," what are likely their major symptoms?

When a person is anemic, their existing red blood cells struggle to capture enough oxygen to keep the body steady; as a result, patients often suffer from shortness of breath, fatigue and general malaise.


A patient comes in complaining of "malaise." What's wrong with them?

If a patient complains of "malaise," their whole body is ailing them. Malaise can be connected to a host of deeper causes, but you can assume from the get-go that patients are feeling thoroughly uncomfortable in their malaise.


If a patient is lying flat on their back, with the foot of the bed elevated 6 inches so the pelvis is above the head, which position is the patient assuming?

The Trendelenburg position is primarily used in surgery situations where the operator needs to access lower portions of the body, including the abdomen and pelvis; it allows for more direct and better access to the these areas.


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