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Use of medical abbreviations and acronyms: knowledge among medical students and postgraduates
  1. Safia Awan1,
  2. Shahab Abid2,
  3. Muhammad Tariq3,
  4. Ali Bin Sarwar Zubairi4,
  5. Ayeesha Kamal5,
  6. Sadia Arshad6,
  7. Qamar Masood7,
  8. Waqar Kashif8,
  9. Saeed Hamid2
  1. 1Department of Medicine, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan
  2. 2Section of Gastroenterology, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan
  3. 3Section of Internal Medicine, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan
  4. 4Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan
  5. 5Section of Neurology, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan
  6. 6Section of Cardiology, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan
  7. 7Section of Diabetes and Endocrinology, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan
  8. 8Section of Nephrology, Department of Medicine, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan
  1. Correspondence to Dr Shahab Abid, Professor and Head Section of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, PO Box 3500, Karachi 74800, Pakistan; Shahab.abid{at}


Introduction Inappropriate use of abbreviations and acronyms in healthcare has become an international patient safety issue. The aim of this study was to assess the knowledge of medical abbreviations and acronyms among residents of the department of medicine at a tertiary-care hospital.

Methods Internal medicine residents (IMRs), subspecialty residents (SRs) and students were asked to complete a self-administered questionnaire which comprised standard abbreviations used in medicine and its various subspecialties. Scores obtained by the residents were classified into three categories: >70% correct answers; 50–69% correct answers; <50% correct answers.

Results A total of 77 IMRs, SRs and medical students participated. Overall, good responses were achieved by 53 (68.8%), 16 (20.8%) attained satisfactory responses, and eight (10.4%) had unsatisfactory scores. The majority of SRs achieved good responses (19/22 (86%)), followed by IMRs (30/40 (75%)) and students (4/15 (26.7%)). Evaluation of their knowledge taken from the list of ‘do not use’ abbreviations showed that 89.6% reported using ‘Q.D.’ instead of ‘once a day’, and 93% used ‘IU’ instead of the entire phrase ‘international unit’. The top five ‘not to use’ abbreviations were ZnSO4, µg, MgSO4, IU and SC, with the frequency 100%, 96%, 94.8%, 93% and 90%, respectively.

Conclusions This study showed that there is a knowledge gap among trainees in medicine regarding the meaning and usage of common medical abbreviations. We therefore recommend proper education of trainees in medicine to ensure they understand the meaning of abbreviations and are aware of the list of ‘do not use’ abbreviations.

  • medical errors
  • medical education
  • Safe Medication Practices
  • medical abbreviation

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  • Contributors ShA developed the idea; SafA wrote the manuscript and performed the statistical analysis under the supervision of ShA. All authors contributed to the selection of abbreviations and acronyms, the literature review, and the review of the final draft.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval Ethics research committee, Aga Khan University Hospital.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement All data are provided in full in the results section of this paper.