The health sector can sometimes use jargon. We have developed this glossary to explain these terms in more detail. You'll also find the glossary items throughout the site where they have been used. The explanation will appear by hovering above terms in green.

Click one of the letters above to take you to the terms beginning with that letter.



Accident and emergency.

Acute medical unit

The first point of entry into hospital for patients who have been referred as emergencies by their GP or who require admission from the A&E department.


The abbreviation for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.


Agenda for Change. The main pay system for NHS staff, except doctors, dentists and senior managers.

Agenda for Change

The main pay system for staff in the NHS, except doctors, dentists and senior managers. Abbreviated to AfC and also know as NHS Terms and Conditions of Service.


Caused by dilation of a blood vessel, and can lead to rupture and death.


The swelling of the deeper layers of the skin, caused by a build-up of fluid.


The largest artery in the body.


The drawing off of fluid from a cavity by means of suction.

Autoimmune disease

A problem with the body’s immune system, when it starts to attack healthy cells, tissues and organs. Examples include lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Go to top


Bariatric surgery

Surgery for weight loss, such as gastric bypass surgery or gastric band.


A sample of cells or tissue is removed from the body and tested to help exclude or establish a diagnosis such as cancer.


A cancer treatment whereby radioactive material is inserted directly into the tumour.


Examination of the airways using a bronchoscope (a flexible or rigid tube with a small camera and light at the end).

Go to top


Cardiac arrest

A cessation of the normal regular muscular contractions of the heart, meaning blood cannot be pumped around the body


Relating to the heart and lungs

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

Involves the administration of live-saving chest compressions to someone who is not breathing or who has suffered a cardiac arrest.


Concerning the heart and blood vessels.


A flexible tube that is inserted into the body to remove or introduce fluids. Catheters also have other uses, for example to widen obstructed blood vessels.


Certificate of completion of training. Confirms that a doctor has completed an approved training programme in the UK and is eligible for entry onto the GP register or the specialist register. The Certificate of Eligibility for Specialist Registration (CESR) provides an alternative route to the specialist register for those doctors who have not followed a traditional training programme, but who may have gained the same skills as CCT holders.

Certificate of completion of training

Confirms that a doctor has completed an approved training programme in the UK and is eligible for entry onto the GP register or the specialist register. Abbreviated to CCT.


Treatment for cancer patients with drugs that destroy the cancer cells.


Chartered Institute for Environmental Health. An independent organisation representing the interests of the environmental health profession.

Clinical audit

A process that has been defined as "a quality improvement process that seeks to improve patient care and outcomes through systematic review of care against explicit criteria and the implementation of change."

Clinical commissioning group

A group of GPs repsonsible for designing local health services in England. Abbreviated to CCG.

Clinical effectiveness

A measure of the extent to which a particular treatment or intervention works.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

A talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. Abbreviated to CBT.


A procedure allowing the examination of the colon using a thin flexible tube with a light and camera at one end (known as an endoscope).


Relating to the colon or rectum.

Competition ratio

Competition ratios tell you how many applications were received relative to the number of places available. 

Core medical training

Core medical training was replaced in Autumn 2019 by internal medicine training

Corporate governance

A system that incorporates processes to minimise all risks in an organisation.


Corticosteroids are a class of steroid hormones that are produced in the adrenal cortex of vertebrates, as well as the synthetic analogues of these hormones

Similar Terms: Corticosteroid

Corticosteroid drugs

Similar to corticosteroid hormones that are produced by the adrenal glands, which are small glands at the top of the kidney. Often known as steroids, they are prescribed for a variety of conditions, via tablets, injection, inhalers, creams and so on.  


A common condition in babies and young children resulting in narrowing and inflammation of the airways that causes hoarseness, noisy breathing and a cough. It is usually viral.

CT scans

Computerised tomography scan. Uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of the inside of the body. Sometimes referred to as a CAT scan or computed tomography scan.


A particle accelerator that accelerates charged particles in a spiralling motion, which are then extracted from the accelerator to be used for many different purposes, for example in medical or research activities.

Go to top


Data mining

The process of extracting information from a set of data and putting it into a format that can be easily understood for further use.

developmental language disorder

A lifelong condition that significantly affects how someone understands what is said to them and /or how they express themselves

Differential diagnosis

A series of potential diagnoses that could explain the symptoms a patient is experiencing, which can then potentially lead to the correct diagnosis.


Deoxyribonucleic acid. The hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms.


Doppler effect (or the Doppler shift) is the change in frequency or wavelength of a wave.

Go to top



A period of time (often 6-12 weeks) spent away from a medical degree on a placement, often overseas. A wide range of other health-related degree courses can also include an elective, such as dentistry, nursing, physiotherapy and pharmacy.

Electro-convulsive therapy

A standard psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in patients to provide relief from psychiatric illnesses. Formerly known as electroshock therapy.


A test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of the heart. 

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

A test to record the electrical activity of the brain – used for diagnosis and monitoring of certain conditions that affect the brain. 

Endocrine system

Your endocrine system includes eight major glands throughout your body, such as the thyroid gland, pituitary gland, adrenal gland, and pancreas.

Similar Terms: endocrine system

Endometrial ablation

A medical procedure that is used to remove (ablate) or destroy the endometrial lining of a uterus.


A flexible or rigid tube with a small camera and light at the end, used for examination, photography, biopsy and surgery/treatment. Light is carried along the tube by very fine glass fibres.


Examination of a body cavity using an endoscope, which is a flexible or rigid tube with a small camera and light. Operations can also sometimes be carried out by passing instruments into the endoscope.

Endotracheal intubations

A medical procedure in which a tube is placed into the windpipe (trachea) through the mouth or nose.


Using wires, catheters, balloons, stents and devices to treat arterial disease in a minimally invasive way.


The study of patterns of health and disease in populations.


This is the injection of local anaesthetic or other pain-relieving medicines into a space that surrounds your spinal cord. It temporarily numbs your nerves.


Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is technique where a thin flexible tube with a light and camera is inserted via the mouth.It is mainly used to diagnose and treat bile duct and pancreatic duct conditions.

Go to top


Fissure sealant

Fissure sealants are plastic coatings that are painted on to the grooves of the back teeth.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy

A endoscopic procedure that allows the examination of the lining of the rectum and the lower part of the colon. A long flexible tube is inserted, which has a camera and light at one end (known as an endoscope).

Foundation training

Part of a doctor’s training and takes place after the completion of a medical degree at university. It comprises a series of rotations in different specialties within hospitals or in the community. The first year of training is known as FY1 and the second FY2. Foundation training precedes specialist training in medicine or surgery.

Go to top


GCSEs at grades A-C

Results for GCSE subjects in England are graded U to 9, with grades 4-9 being equivalent to GCSE grades C and above.



The branch of science that deals with how you inherit physical and behavioural characteristics, including medical conditions.


A discipline in genetics that looks at the function and structure of genomes (the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism).


General Osteopathic Council - the regulatory body for osteopaths in the UK

Grades A-C

Results for GCSE subjects in England are graded U to 9, with grades 4-9 being equivalent to GCSE grades C and above.

Go to top



A method of removing waste products from the blood using a dialyser or artificial kidney.

Harvesting veins

Removal of healthy veins to be used elsewhere in the body


The Health and Care Professions Council. A regulatory body that maintains a register of a number of healthcare professions.

Heart murmurs

Abnormal sounds caused by turbulent blood flow within the heart.


Relating to the whole thing rather than just a part. In a health setting this means having a concern for the whole person, where body and mind are linked.


NHS Higher Specialist Scientific Training. Training for registered clinical scientists to enable them to practise at consultant healthcare scientist level.

Human Genome Project

A project to gain a better understanding of how certain traits and characteristics are passed on from parents to children.


Abnormally high blood pressure.


A procedure used to examine the inside of the uterus (womb).

Go to top


In vitro

Techniques conducted in a laboratory setting, where a glass dish or test tube is used for observations made outside the body. A well-known example is in vitro-fertilisation, where sperm and egg are fertilised outside the body.


The science of computer information systems. As an academic field it involves the practice of information processing, and the engineering of information systems.

Intensive care

The care of seriously ill people.

Intrauterine contraceptives

A small T-shaped device made from plastic and copper that is fitted in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Also called a coil.


The insertion of a tube into a part of the body, often a breathing tube into the trachea (breathing passages). This enables mechanical ventilation, for example during surgery or as an emergency procedure.

Go to top



Pertaining to the larynx.


Linear accelerator, which is a device used for external beam radiation treatments for patients with cancer.

Lipid disorders

Metabolic disorders that result in abnormal amounts of fatty substances that are insoluble in water (lipids) which may lead to serious illnesses.

Local area networks
A computer network that connects computers within a limited areas such as a home, hospital or office buidling using network media. Abbreviated to LAN.
Lumbar puncture

The insertion of a hollow needle into the spinal canal, to inject drugs or other substances or to withdraw cerebrospinal fluid.

Go to top


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

An imaging technique that uses powerful magnetic fields and radio waves to provide detailed cross-sectional or three-dimensional images of the body.


The processes, both physical and chemical, by which the living body is built up and maintained, and by which molecules are broken down to make energy available to the organism.


Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency


Small arteries or veins

Mitral valves

Valve with two tapered cusps, located between the left atrium and the left ventricle of the heart. Also called the bicuspid valve.


Membership of the Royal College of Physicians


Magnetic resonance imaging.


Multiple long-term, chronic health conditions.

Multidisciplinary team meeting (MDT)

Different professionals meet together to discuss the diagnosis and treatment of patients.  They include doctors from different specialties, nurses and many other professionals such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

Go to top



Enables scientists to examine molecules and atoms at the smallest possible microscopic level. Measurements are made in nanometers. One nanometer is a billionth of a meter.


A device used to administer drugs including corticosteroids for conditions such as asthma.


The period of time following a baby’s birth, up to four weeks after birth.

NHS Constitution

Sets out the rights that patients, the public and staff are entitled to, and the pledges that the NHS is committed to achieving.


The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides national guidance and advice to improve health and social care.


The Nursing and Midwifery Council. A regulatory body that maintains a register of nurses, midwives and health visitors.

Go to top


Objective structured clinical examination (OSCE)

A type of examination used in medicine and other health professions to test a broad range of clinical skills and other skills such as communication. The examination takes place via a series of stations usually lasting 5-10 minutes, and the student progresses from station to station with a different examiner each time. Actors may be used in place of real patients.


A build up of fluid in the body, causing the affected tissue to become swollen.

On call

Where a member of staff is available to be called for work, usually outside normal working hours. This can involve answering enquiries over the phone, or physically attending the workplace. It can also sometimes involve sleeping at the workplace to be available to deal with emergencies.


The branch of medicine that deals with the study and treatment of tumours, particularly cancerous tumours.


Devices worn in shoes either to change the way the foot works while walking or to provide support. They are used to help pain outside the foot such as in the ankle, knee, hip or back. 

Go to top



Puncture of the wall of a body cavity by a hollow needle in order to draw off excess fluid or to obtain diagnostic material (eg abdomen or chest).


The administration of drugs or other fluids into the body by any route except via the gastrointestinal tract (for example by intravenous or intramuscular injection or infusion).

Parenteral nutrition

The provision of carbohydrate, fat and proteins via intravenous administration (feeding).


The study of changes in the way the body works that result from disease.


The goal of perioperative care is to provide better conditions for patients before, during and after the operation.


The time before and after an operation.

Personal development plan

An action plan based on self awareness, values, reflection, goal-setting and planning for career development. Abbreviated to PDP.


Public Health England.


The science of the functions of living organisms.

Pleural aspiration

A small needle is inserted into the space between the lungs and the chest wall to remove fluid that has accumulated around the lung.

Plexus blocks

Regional anesthesia techniques that are sometimes employed as an alternative to general anesthesia for surgery of the shoulder, arm, forearm, wrist and hand.


The administration of different drugs taken together, which increases the likelihood of side effects from drug interactions.

Primary care

Care provided by GP practices, dental practices, community pharmacies and high street optometrists. It is many people's first (primary) point of contact with the NHS. Around 90% of patient interaction is with primary care services.


Plural of prosthesis. An artificial device that replaces a missing body part, which may have been lost through trauma, disease, or congenital conditions.


NHS Practitioner Training Programme. An undergraduate route into healthcare science, via an accredited BSc (Hons) in healthcare science.

Pulmonary embolism

A blood clot in the pulmonary artery or in the lung.

Go to top


Quality and Outcomes Framework

The annual reward and incentive programme that measures the achievements of GP practices. Abbreviated to QOF.

Quality assurance

A way of preventing mistakes or defects in products and avoiding problems in customer service.

Go to top



Treatment of cancer patients with x-rays or other radiation.


Royal College of Physicians

Red flag

Symptoms that indicate a potentially serious disease and warrant prompt investigation and treatment.


Related to the respiratory (breathing) system, which includes the nose, throat (pharynx), larynx, windpipe (trachea), lungs and diaphragm.

Run through

Some medical trainee pathway posts are such that, once the trainee starts a pathway, provided they meet the Annual Review of Competence Programme (ARCP), they will continue on that pathway until they reach the end of their training.

Go to top


Secondary care

Relates to services provided by specialist doctors or other health professionals who generally don't have the first contact with the patient, but are referred by primary care (often by a GP). Secondary care services are usually provided in a hospital or clinic.


Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs. 

Sickle cell disease

A serious inherited blood disorder where the red blood cells develop abnormally.

Spinal block

This is a alternative to general anaesthesia when the surgical site is located on the lower extremities, perineum (eg, surgery on the genitalia or anus), or lower abdominal area.


NHS Scientist Training Programme. A graduate entry route to become a clinical scientist.


Caused when there is interruption of the blood supply to the brain, which is often the result of a blood clot in a cerebral (brain) artery (ischaemic stroke). It may also be caused by the rupturing of a blood vessel in or near the brain (haemorrhagic stroke). 

Subdermal contraceptive implants

A type of birth control. It is a small flexible tube measuring about 40mm in length which is inserted under the skin.


A stitch or series of stitches used to close a wound.

Go to top


T levels

T Levels are new 2-year courses, which will follow GCSEs and will be equivalent to 3 A Levels. They will offer students a mixture of classroom learning and 'on-the-job' experience during an industry placement of at least 45 days.

Similar Terms: t levels T-levels T-Levels T Levels


Trauma and orthopaedic covers injuries and conditions relating to bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves

Tertiary care

Treatment given in a large regional hospital that provides highly specialised care, for example in cardiac surgery or oncology.


The formation of a blood clot in the blood vessels or heart.


Noises heard in the ear without an external cause, such as buzzing or ringing.

topical fluride

Professionally applied topical fluorides include higher-strength rinses, gels, and foams and fluoride varnishes;.


Plural of topology, an area of mathematics concerned with the properties of space.


Plural of tracheostomy, an opening created at the front of the neck so a tube can be inserted into the windpipe (trachea) to help you breathe.

Transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

Also known as a “mini-stroke”, this occurs when there is a brief interruption of the blood supply to the brain, causing symptoms similar to those of a stroke. The symptoms typically last less than one hour and are completely resolved within 24 hours.

Go to top



A procedure that uses high frequency sound waves to produce images of body structures. Can also be used to provide treatment or assist with the healing process.

United Kingdom Public Health Register

A register providing public assurance for the provision of a competent workforce that contributes to a high quality public health service. Abbreviated to UKPHR.


A raised, itchy rash on the skin. Also known as hives, welts or nettle rash.

Go to top


Wide area networks

A network covering a broad area, ie any telecommunications network that links regional, national or international boundaries using leased telecommunications.

Working Time Directive

Gives EU workers the right to a minimum number of holidays each year, rest breaks, and rest of at least 11 hours in any 24 hours; restricts excessive night work; gives a day off after a week's work; and provides for a right to work no more than 48 hours per week.

Go to top

Make a comment or report a problem with this page

Help us improve

This form is for you to tell us about something that could be improved about the website or if there's anything wrong, incorrect or inaccurate with what you see. 

If you have a query about a career in the NHS, please visit our contact us page and call or email us.