10 Must-know Acronyms for Future Health Care Students

“I need a CBC and EKG, stat!” We’ve all heard these acronyms, and many others being thrown around on television shows and in the emergency room. But what do they mean, and which ones do you really need to know?

Each profession has their own internal language, from ten-codes in police departments to acronyms in the military, they’re meant to make it easier to communicate. But to outsiders, it’s completely overwhelming and, at times, frustrating. For health care students, the list of acronyms that you’ll hear is likely daunting, but fortunately not all of them need to be conquered immediately.

Why use acronyms?

The simple reason people use acronyms and abbreviations is to cut down on time. Whether writing terms or speaking them, saying long, multi-syllable words when a commonly accepted acronym is available would be redundant and unnecessary.

Standardized communication between professionals is important as it keeps everyone on the same page regarding patient care. It also helps make documentation easier. When health care documentation specialists are listening to reports, they are able to quickly relate those abbreviations and acronyms with the full word, if needed for their reports.

Another reason that acronyms are utilized is to avoid errors as much as possible. Human error and handwriting can be hard to interpret at times, so commonly recognized abbreviations or acronyms help reduce human error. Knowing the most common health care terms prior to starting a health care career will only help in the long run.

The top ten list

We’ve broken down the top ten acronyms that future (and current) health care students should know. Some of these are quite important to continuing your education, and others will come in handy during any clinical or observation periods. Note that these are not in any specific order and that there may be others that you need to know depending on your field. These will just get you started with increasing your familiarity with the health care education field.

  1. Assessment Technologies Institute Test of Essential Academic Skills (ATI TEAS) – Part of Ascend Learning, an organization that helps people pass tests, the Nursing Education section focuses on providing the resources and solutions needed for each person preparing for a high-stakes test. They offer preparation designed to each student’s preferred learning style.
  2. Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) – A physician-led organization that aims to “improve health care and population health by assessing and advancing the quality of resident physicians’ education through accreditation.” A not-for-profit and independent council that sets the standards for training programs.
  3. Centralized Application Service (CASTM) – Students applying to medical school should be familiar with the CAS that pertains to their specific health care field. A CAS is a Centralized Application Service that allows prospective students to complete one application and submit it to several different schools. It’s faster and more efficient for both admissions counselors and prospective students.
  4. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) – This journal network is the first stop for most health care providers, and students should also be familiar with it. There are several specific areas like ophthalmology and psychiatry and the archived issues can be a big help when it comes to writing research papers.
  5. Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – Most students are familiar with the FAFSA as a way to determine qualification for financial aid. Each year over $120 billion in grants, loans and work-study funds are disbursed to over 13 million students through this program. Every student should complete a FAFSA, even if you’re not sure that you’ll qualify for aid.
  6. Under-represented Minority (URM) – In 2004, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) expanded on its definition of the URM to include “those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population.” Diversity in health care is crucial as the diversity in patients requires sensitivity and specialty.
  7. National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) – Affectionately referred to as “The Match,” the NRMP was established in 1952 as a non-profit and non-governmental organization. It places U.S. medical students with residency training programs throughout the country’s teaching hospitals.
  8. Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics (BCPM) – Science and math courses that fall under these four major pillars are considered part of the BCPM and are often given their own GPA. These do not include psychology, public health, nutrition or pharmacology. Be sure to consult your intended school for details on calculating this.
  9. American Medical Association – Medical Student Section (AMA-MSS) – The AMA has designated an internal organization to medical students. Here medical students can learn how to get involved, in ways that include leadership and policy. From community service opportunities to fellowships to leadership within the AMA-MSS, there is a spot for everyone interested in learning more and furthering their career, even before graduation.
  10. Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) – Unfortunately, the standardized testing didn’t end with the SAT or ACT. The MCAT is the test given to determine a potential medical student’s problem solving, critical thinking and general knowledge in several areas.

What other acronyms have you come across in your preparation for entering the health care field? Share in the comments below!


Thank you for a very interesting article. I think that people who dedicate themselves to health preservation are among the most important people in the world. Because for each person the most important is your health and your loved ones. And with the advent of new technologies, the system of health preservation develops very quickly.

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