Most Common Pharmacy Abbreviations and How to Remember Them


by Kimberly Minor, CPhT

When you accepted your pharmacy tech position, did you ever think that you were also being hired as a translator and handwriting specialist?

At least with the growing conversion to electronic prescriptions, you may not have to analyze a doctor’s handwriting as much, but the translation never stops. Before becoming a technician, did you ever look at a prescription and wonder what it says and how the pharmacy knows how to translate it?

That’s how I felt and still felt that way on my first day on the other side of the counter. I asked my pharmacist, “How do you know what these abbreviations mean, and how do you remember them?”

She answered, “Once you do this job for a while, it will become second nature to you.” I thought I would never be able to look at these abbreviations and automatically know what to translate. All in all, she was right. Repetition becomes your best friend in pharmacy, but I wanted to know what these abbreviations were off the top of my head without looking at a prescription or cheat sheet.

I decided to come up with a way of remembering these abbreviations.

The most difficult ones for me to remember were those for the eyes and ears, and I would always get these mixed up. The left eye is OS, the right eye is OD, and both eyes are OU. Not long after the time I was hired as a tech, my mother was diagnosed with cataracts and glaucoma, so she had a few surgeries during that time. I would read her eye drop prescriptions, and that’s when I started thinking outside the box.

Most eye surgeries are usually scheduled as same-day surgeries. It occurred to me that when I would have to translate a prescription for an eye medication, I use the location of the eye on the face and where eyes are repaired.

I already knew that ‘O’ meant ocular, so this is what I came up with: OS=left eye -‘S’ = Same; OD=right eye = ‘D’ = Day; OU=both eyes -‘U’ = Unite since both eyes’ unite’ for us to see. Then my next thought was to find a way to remember the ear abbreviations. I used the ‘A’ to represent ‘audio’; AS= left ear -‘S’ = Soothing (Listening to music soothes me after a busy day at the pharmacy); AD=right ear -‘D’ = Diverse (I listen to all types of music); AU=both ears -‘U’ = Unite, both ears’ unite’ for us to hear.

Here are a few more that I came up with for some of the most common abbreviations:

  • AC = before meals –after coffee (I always drink my coffee without food)
  • PC = after meals –post-coffee
  • DAW = dispense as written –don’t adjust writing
  • PRN = as-needed –prescription rarely needed
  • HS = bedtime –have with sleep
  • BID = twice daily –both in a day
  • TID = three times a day –triple in a day
  • QID = four times a day –quadruple in a day

I found that associating pharmacy abbreviations with simpler meaning or from personal experience can be great ways to remember these. I hope sharing these can serve as a starting point to remembering pharmacy abbreviations, especially if you’re a newly employed pharmacy tech. I hope you have as much fun coming up with your own as I did with mine!