Why Does ‘Stat’ Mean “Immediately”?

It was originally a medical thing—here’s why.
Patient portals unfortunately aren't yet of the teleportal variety.
Patient portals unfortunately aren't yet of the teleportal variety. / (Edited from) sorbetto/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

The reason stat is short for statistics needs no explanation. But stat is an abbreviation for something else, too—here’s how it came to be and why you often hear it in medical contexts.

What Does Stat Mean?

Stat simply means “immediately.” It’s typically used to specify that a certain task or action must be done without delay—as in, for example, Please have that report on my desk stat or I need a Snickers bar stat. You sometimes see it written in all caps, STAT, which could either be to add extra emphasis or because people assume it’s an acronym. It’s possible that the all-caps custom is influenced by the fact that ASAP basically means the same thing and is an acronym (for as soon as possible).

But stat is not an acronym: It’s an abbreviation for the Latin word statim, also meaning “immediately.” Stat originally gained popularity in medicine, which brings us to our next question … 

Why Do Doctors Say “Stat”?

healthcare worker in a mask inserts medicine into an IV tube
This could be a stat, scheduled, or PRN medication. / Siqui Sanchez/The Image Bank/Getty Images

When stat first entered the English lexicon in the early 19th century, it was used by physicians clarifying that a drug or procedure should be administered immediately. Latin medical terms were (and still are) common because Latin was “a neutral ground for medical professionals from different countries,” as one 2018 article in the Journal of Medical Case Reports put it. “Moreover, Latin and latinized Greek are productive tools for coining new terms.”

Medical professionals still use stat today, sometimes to differentiate a medication that must be administered immediately from two other types of medication orders. There are scheduled ones, which “are typically utilized for medications that are designed to give a continuous effect over a certain period of time (e.g. antibiotics),” per a 2016 article in Pharmacy Practice; and PRN orders “for medications that are to be given in the event of specific signs or symptoms (e.g. analgesics and antipyretics for pain and fever, respectively).” PRN is Latin, too: It stands for pro re nata (literally, “for the affair born”), meaning “as needed.”

Stat also applies to medical tests: If your healthcare provider puts in a stat order for an MRI, for instance, you can expect to be taken to the scanner fairly quickly. As for whether real-life medical workers shout “Stat!” as much as their television counterparts do, sources generally say no—it’s more common in writing.

Learn What Other Abbreviations Mean Here: