Common Nursing Terms Every New Nurse in Canada Must Know

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Nursing Study Abroad

All professions include practitioners using standard terminology for understanding one another. This is true in the field of nursing as well. One of the significant things that all nurses must familiarize themselves with is the nursing terminology, which is the vocabulary or language that is frequently used by practicing nurses.  The nursing terminology in Canada is used to describe medical terms or situations that can be familiar to the nurses. Nurses use these terms to communicate effectively with other nurses and other healthcare professionals in both the spoken and written forms during patient care.  In case you are a nurse who is about to embark on a new journey by joining a nursing college in Canada, you must know the common terms used by nurses. In this blog, we will cover the most commonly used terms every new nursing professional in Canada must know.  However, before anything let us first start by understanding the importance of nursing terminologies. 

Importance of Nursing Terminologies: 

Nursing professionals offer healthcare delivery services that can potentially save a person’s life. The nature of nursing is such that the stakes involved are focused on critical patient health care. Hence, it becomes important to use nursing terminologies that can be easily understood by other healthcare professionals who may otherwise offer care to the same patient but at different times.  Regardless of whether a nurse might be in a long term or temporary nursing position, the goal is always to ensure a high level of patient care. To do that, quick, effective, and clear communication is very important.  Hence, if a student wants to study nursing in Canada, it is imperative to know the nursing terms so that things like client assessment, diagnosis, medical history analysis, implementation of long-term care strategies can be done properly.  There cannot be one way of communicating everything in the medical world, which is why different terms are used to refer to different things. If the nursing terminology is not used then there will always be a looming risk of nursing practice becoming inefficient. 

Common Nursing Terms

1. The patient is “Tachy”: 

Here, the word Tachy is pronounced as Tacky and has a completely new meaning in the nursing terminology. When a nurse or a doctor says that “The patient is Tachy”, it means that the patient has tachycardia which is a fast heart rate.  It is common for nurses to look at the heart rate monitor and say “He/She is Tachy” which just indicates that the patient’s heart rate is elevated and beating too fast.  

2. Frequent Flyer: 

The term “Frequent Flyer” is commonly used for a patient who is admitted to a hospital repeatedly. The patient can be brought into the emergency rooms often or get hospitalized repeatedly.  In addition, the term “Frequent Flyer” also means that the patient is recognized by the regular staff members who work at the hospital.  

3. Walkie-Talkie: 

A “Walkie-Talkie” is a patient that needs minimal bedside nursing care at the hospital. These patients are the ones who can feed themselves, have low falling risks, and can also go to the bathroom by themselves. These are the patients who are at the end of their hospital stay.  Mostly, these patients are prepared to get discharged and are only waiting on an order by the authorities or to get picked up by someone. That said, there can be situations where these patients might require a nurse to bring them their medications at the bedside.  You can commonly hear the nurses use “Walkie-Talkie” while reporting to another nurse who is required to take care of this patient in the next shift. A nurse can say something such as, “Mr./Ms. ABC is a walkie-talkie.”  

4. Can I get a “Waste?”: 

The nurses are often made responsible to manage and administer narcotics to the patients as prescribed by the physicians. All narcotics do not come in a prescribed dosage or the amount that is needed by the patients. Hence, sometimes the nurses are required to “waste” the partially used narcotics.  In this scenario, the word “waste” means the witnessing process by an authorized nurse or a staff member. The witnessing process also includes the nurses who administer the partially used narcotics while discarding the medication according to the hospital or clinical policy while another authorized nurse observes the nurse doing the same.  The witness, in this case, needs to observe the right documentation by the administering nurse so that the quantity used and discarded can be recorded properly. This entire process is important to ensure no narcotics are diverted and the administering nurse is protected from any diversion claims.  

5. Have you Had a Bowel Movement?:

Having completed your nursing education, you will often see an experienced nurse asking this question commonly post abdominal surgery. Anytime when an abdomen is surgically manipulated, there is a big chance of things not moving along properly. This is a medical condition called “ileus.”  Anytime when an ileus happens, the patient is unable to produce a bowel movement. When there are prolonged periods of bowel movements after abdominal surgery, there is a greater chance of tissue death and abdominal infection.  With medical intervention, it becomes easy to resolve a situation that involves ileus. In this case, the nurse needs to monitor the patient and look out for the possibility of an ileus to care for the patient.  

6. Banana Bag: 

A “Banana Bag” is a yellow-colored IV fluid bag. It has a yellow color that is characteristic of a banana and also has many nutrients such as Vitamins B9, B1, Sugar, and Saltwater. The multivitamin component inside the Banana Bag makes the fluid look yellow.  These bags are used to treat alcohol withdrawal patients. Nurses are the ones who handle and administer the medications and because of that, they are the ones who give the “Banana Bag” to the patients. Oftentimes, nurses can be heard saying, “Get me the Banana Bag.”  

7. Code Brown:

The term “Code Brown” refers to an emergency situation of a bowel movement in a patient’s bed. This happens when the patient has incontinence of the bowels.  Many times, nurses might also ask for help while handling the code brown including getting more gloves, diapers, new bedsheets, a bedpan, clean clothes, etc. When the nurses say “Code Brown”, it means that they need all of these things.  

8. Ad Lib: 

The word “Ad Lib” means as desired. It is a short form of the Latin phrase “Ad Libitum.” The nurses can often be heard saying, “The patient is up Ad Lib.” This means that the patient is not restricted to do any physical activities.   Ad Lib also means that the patient can move in and out of the bed without any assistance and walk as much as the patient needs. Some patients might have some restrictions because of fall risks or other hazards. If that is the case then the patients who need assistance in getting out of the bed are not “Ad Lib” to do activities without assistance.  

9. OOB: 

OOB is the acronym for “Out of Bed.” Sometimes, patients need help in getting OOB to sit on the chair or they need to be reminded by their nurses to get out of the bed. These patients are the ones who feel comfortable staying in bed all the time during their hospitalization.  This can be due to the physical effort that it takes to get up after recent surgeries or in other cases, there may be some physical limitations as well. Nurses usually try to get these patients “OOB to chair” at least once during their shift so that the lungs of these patients can expand and breathe better.  “OOB” is commonly found written on nursing notes instead of the spoken form. In the written form, it is usually noted as “OOB to Chair.”  

10. PRN: 

The term “PRN” indicates as needed or whenever necessary. It is the short version of the Latin phrase “Pro Re Nata.” In the literal sense, the word “pro” means for, “re” means a thing, and “nata” means born.  Hence, the word PRN or “Pro Re Nata” means as the circumstances or situations may arise. For instance, in case a patient is on a painkiller dose of 200mg in a period of six hours, this means that the patient may take 200mg of painkiller every six hours after the pain shoots up again.   This is a sign to take the medication only when the pain shoots up rather than taking the medication every six hours. In nurse staffing, the term PRN is also used to refer to “Per Diem” in the case of travel or part-time nurses. 


Other than enabling clear and concise communication amongst nurses, the standard nursing terminology also helps the healthcare professionals to receive and send patient data with minimal misinterpretation.  When the nurses are proficient in using common nursing terminology, they can obtain patient data from an electronic health record while interpreting the information more quickly than nurses who otherwise lack familiarity with the standard terms. This proficiency improves the immediate care offered and the formation of long-term nursing care strategies along with better clinical outcomes. 


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