Pharmacy Abbreviations: The Fast-Track to Becoming a Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy AbbreviationsBecoming a Pharmacist is all the rage these days.  After all, it is ranked at #5 for the best jobs in the United States today according to US News.  However, if you do not have the time to commit to four years of professional school, or if you do not know if being a Pharmacist is for you, you might consider becoming a Pharmacy Technician.  This course is going to go over the nuts and bolts that you need to become a Pharmacy Tech, such as essential abbreviations, as well as how to study for your Pharmacy Technician exam.

The Nuts and Bolts of a Pharmacy Technician Job

All right, let’s get down to it: the nuts and bolts of being a pharmacy technician.   The pharmacy abbreviations that you will need to know before you take your exam and begin a job are also known as “pharmacy SIG codes.”  These are essential because you will see these on just about every prescription for the rest of your life.  An easy way to remember these is to make a kind of a game out of some of them.   We highly recommend using the 3X5 index cards for some easily accessible repetition.  If you are on your road to becoming a Pharmacy Technician, you should be studying for the Pharmacy Technician exam which will will test you extensively on pharmacy abbreviations.

Why Do Doctors Abbreviate?

You might be wondering why doctors write in this funny way?  QD, BID, and all that.

  1. It takes less time.  Doctors do not have much time, and you have probably gotten this feeling before if you have ever been in a Doctor’s office.  Doctors have appointments to keep.  They can quickly write something such as an abbreviation whenever you have quick SIG codes.

  2. Only a finite amount of space is available on a prescription.  Imagine how long it would take to write  “Take 1-2 tablets by mouth every six hours. Before meals and at bedtime.  Quantity of 30.  Six refills.”  The solution is to write it as quick and as fast as you can while taking up as little space on that prescription as possible because you may have multiple medications to write for.

Abbreviating How Often to Take Medications

Let’s first take a look at these SIG codes that tell patients how often they need to take their medication.  Let’s take a look at one that says “QD” or “Qdaily”.  Most people recommend that “QDaily” is what is written, because “QD” looks like “QO”, which does not necessarily mean anything, but it can look like a few other things.  For instance, you will see “QID”, and if you say “QDaily” it is a little bit easier to see.  Here are some other ones:

1.   “BID” makes you think “bicycle,” right?  Bi.  Two.  Twice daily.

2.   “TID” makes you think of “tricycle.”  TID.  Three times a day.

3.   “QID”.  With QID, you can think of the word “quad”.  Quad means four, so four times a day.

After that, most prescribers just start writing “5X a day,” “6X a day,” “7X a day,” and so on.  Past that, you might see some “every so many hours.”  You can see “Q 24 hours.”   Anytime you see “Q,” you can replace the word “every” for what you see there.  For instance:

1.    “Q 24 hours” is “Every 24 hours or Q24h” here.  Every 24 hours.

2.   “Q12h.”  Every 12 hours.

3.   Then, we can just put “Q_h,” because you can have “Q2h,” every two hours.

4.   “Q5h.”  Every five hours.

Whatever the prescriber deems appropriate for the prescription, they may put it there, and as a pharmacy technician, you have to be ready.  You will also see “QOD,” which just means “Every other day.”  This can be confusing if they just write “QD” as well.

Looking Out, Always

One thing that is important to note is that prescribers sometimes do not know abbreviations very well.  They are not going to know it as well as you are going to know it, and sometimes they just make up their own stuff as they go.  Keep this in mind, and look out for things on prescriptions that appear to be written down inaccurately.  Generally, it will be in a short-hand that you probably understand, but it may not be the official SIG codes that you will learn here.  On the certification examination, however, you will always get the proper SIG codes because that is what they will be testing you on.  One last note here on the Q12h, Q24h; sometimes they will not put “H,” and they will put a little circle.  This might just look like a degree sign at the top.

A Little Quiz

Let’s try to do something a little different.  Here are some SIG codes, and you are going to try to figure out what that SIG code means.  At this point, you should have already memorized a few of them:

1.   The first one reads QID.  So, what does QID stand for?  If you said four times a day, you are correct.

2.   Let’s check out the next one.  QOD.  What does that mean?  Does it mean once daily?  Does it mean twice daily?  Does it mean every other day?  Yes, it means every other day.

3.   Let’s get into how often.   How often are we taking these?  QHS.  Every night at bedtime. Generally, QHS just means every night at bedtime.

4.   QAM.  “Q” means “early” and  “AM” means “morning.”

5.   QPM means every evening.

6.   Here is a good one.  AC and PC.  “A” you will always hear means “before,” whenever it is like this.  A. C. C – if you know Spanish, you know that “comida” is a meal.  Therefore, A.C.C. means before meals.  AC is before food or before meals.  PC is after.  You can think of it as “post.”  “Post” means “after.”  Post “C.”  If you are not into Spanish, just remember that PC means after food or after meals.

7.   A real important one is PRN.  It just means “as needed.”

8.   How about PC?  What does PC mean?  After meals.

Now, you are going to have to look at the supplemental materials and watch a lecture several times over to really get these.  We will recommend it a thousand times: flashcards.  Buy yourself some 3X5 index cards, write the SIG code on one side, write the translation on the other side, and you will succeed.  Let’s go on to one more:

9.   What is QHS?  What does QHS mean?  If we tell you to take one tablet by mouth QHS, how often are we telling you to take it?  We are telling you to take one tablet by mouth every night at bedtime.

Abbreviating How and Where to Take Medication

Now that we have discussed how often, let’s move on to how or where to take it.  If I say by mouth, or if it is an injection, we are going to need to be able to define that on the label.

1.   The first one is IM.  IM stands for intramuscularly.  This is to say that we are going to put a needle here to signify that it is an injection.  It goes straight into the arm, the leg, and right into the muscle.  What if it is not going quite as deep?  If that is the case, it would read: IM is only fairly deep.

2.   The next one is SQ, which we are going to call it SubQ.  Sometimes you will see it written S-U-B-hypen-Q. S-U-B-hyphen-Q.  This means subcutaneously, which is not near as deep and just into the fatty tissue.  A lot of times you will see it given right behind the arm, or right to the back side of the arm.

3.   Next is PO.  You will see this one on most prescriptions in a retail pharmacies because it is mainly oral medications.  PO means “by mouth.”  Take one tablet PO translates to: take one tablet by mouth.

4.   The next one is SL, which means sub-lingually.  This just means under the tongue.  Whenever you hear “sub,” you can think of a “submarine” because it is under the water. Sub-lingual.  Lingual means tongue, so under the tongue.

5. You are probably pretty familiar with this one: IV, which means intra-venously.  This means exactly what it says: inside the vein.

6. The last two are PR and PV.  PR is much like PO, which is taken by mouth, but now we are talking PR, which means per rectum.  By rectum.  You want to take it rectally when you see something PR.  If you are wondering about what type of medication might go PR, think suppositories.  Suppositories will have to go into the rectum, and you could also get some vaginal suppositories that would be entered PV.  That is vaginally.  So, things that need to be inserted into the body rectally or vaginally are abbreviated by PR or PV.

Now we are going to go into how and where a patient needs to take their medication.  These abbreviations can be a bit tricky because they are so similar.  We are first going to deal with abbreviations when looking at the right eye and right ear.  Let’s begin:

1.   We will start with “O.”  OD.  Anytime you hear “D” in a situation like this, you want to think of the right side.  So, “O.”  Opthalmic, meaning “eye.”  “D,” meaning “right.”  This translates to: right eye.

2.   The next one is OS.  OS meaning “left eye.”  “S” in a SIG code here means “to the left,” and “O” meaning “opthalmic.”  This translates to left eye.

3. The last one there, OU, means “both eyes.”

4. Now onto AD.  AD means “the right ear.”  Some people will say that they remember that “A” means “ear,” because it is like audio and you hear audio in your ear.  Therefore: AD with “D” meaning “right.”  Right ear.

5. AS, again “S” means “left.”   “A” for audio in the ear.  Left ear.  AU.  Both ears.  So, when you see “U”– Both ears.  When you see “U,” you are thinking “both,” and then we can look at the “A” or the “O.”  Whether it means ear or eye.


Let’s go into a bit more detail with these abbreviations and take a little quiz again.

·         If we say, “Take one drop AS.”  AS would be left ear.  “A,” like audio is “ear.”  “S,” in this case, means “left.”

·         Our next SIG code, we are going to have SL.  If we say, “take one tablet SL Q6h,” what is SL?  It means “under the tongue.”  Remember, “sub” like “submarine.”  Under the tongue.  Lingual. Tongue.  Under the tongue.

Miscellaneous Abbreviations

Here are some miscellaneous abbreviations that you may come across fairly often.

1.   “C” with a bar over it.  The letter “C” with a bar over it – that means “with.”  It is just easy to write.  Many doctors will write “W” with a slash after it, and that is fine, but traditionally “C” with a bar over it means “with.”

2. “S” with a bar over it.  The letter “S” as in “Sam,” with a bar over it means “without.”  So, with “C” with a bar over it.  “Without,” “S” with a bar over it.

3. Remember when we had the trivia question a while ago for SL?  Sub-lingual, under the tongue?  Well, the type of tablets you would put under the tongue are ODT tablets.  Orally-disintegrating.  You could think of that as a sort of melt-able tablet.  That is ODT.  Orally-disintegrating tablets.

3.   GTT or just the plural version, GTTS.  That means a drop or drops.  When you see GTT, you are thinking ear drops, eye drops, or whatever kind of drops there may be.  That is what GTT is.

Medication Abbreviations

Let’s have a look at some medication abbreviations.  These are common abbreviations that stand for a medication, and not necessarily a “how” or “how often.”

1.   The first one is APAP.  That is acetaminophen.  You may just call this Tylenol for right now.  That is a really important one to know, because it will be written as APAP for Tylenol, but many medications have Tylenol in them and you will see it written on the prescription with APAP.

2.   How about aspirin?  Aspirin you will just see written as ASA.  “A” as in “apple,” “S” as in “Sam,” “A.”  The reason it is ASA instead of just, say, ASP, is because aspirin is known as acetylsalicylic acid.  So, you can see the ASA there.

3.   The last one is hydrochlorithiazide.  This word may make you thankful that they have a shortened version of that word!  Can you imagine having to write that word on a prescription?  Again, that is why the doctors even have these SIG codes.  It is HCTZ.  That is how people will even refer to it in a pharmacy, as “Hey, can you grab me a bottle HCTZ?”

Study, Study, Study!

So, there you have it.  We have the pharmacy abbreviations.  Learn these and learn them well.  We mentioned the index cards because they are just a great way to learn them.  Look at one side and you will wonder what it is, and then you can simply look at the other side to find out what it is.  In addition, take this course with a more detailed video guide on how to become a Pharmacy Technician to be on your way into becoming a part of the Medical Field!