What Does PRN Mean? (Medical Abbreviation and Meaning)


What does prn mean

PRN is a medical abbreviation that originates from the Latin phrase pro re nata, meaning “as needed.” In nursing, PRN refers either to a nurse or other healthcare worker filling in during a staffing shortage, or to the frequency a medication should be administered to a patient. 

This word is used when referring to medication orders, but it is also associated with nurses who come to help fill in staffing gaps at a hospital or medical facility. See the differences in their meaning below. 

What Does the Abbreviation PRN Stand for in Nursing?

Nurses use the abbreviation in communication with physicians about medications. Still, it also refers to a work schedule that is on an on-call basis. 

For example, full-time nurses can expect to work a full 80 hours within two weeks, whereas PRN nurses don’t have these requirements. Depending on the hospital, these nurses may be required only to work a couple of shifts a month. 

These hours can depend on various factors and change from department to department to help fill staffing shortages. For instance, if a full-time nurse is sick or on vacation, a nurse who is working in a PRN position will cover. 

What Is a PRN Order?

The PRN medical abbreviation is one of the most common abbreviations you’ll see when working as a nurse, especially when it has to do with medication orders. Physicians frequently write PRN orders for 

  • Pain 
  • Nausea 
  • Cough 
  • Sleep 
  • Anxiety 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Itching 

For example, you might see the following order in your MAR (medication administration record) for a patient: 

Robaxin 250mg PO q6 PRN. 

All it means is that the patient can have a muscle relaxer up to every six hours if he or she needs the medication every six hours. The patient does not have to take the medicine every six hours. 

This is where PRN medication is different from scheduled medication. Scheduled medications are administered at specific times all of the time. PRN medication, however, is only given if the patient needs it.

Another example to make it more clear: Tramadol 50mg q6

If a patient has scheduled pain medicine, he or she does not have to ask for it; the nurse will simply bring it every six hours. But if the medication is ordered PRN, the patient has to ask for the medicine. After taking the medicine, the patient doesn’t get the option to have another dose until six hours since the last dose. 

For nurses, PRN orders are instrumental because they can serve as a standing order. Standing orders are part of protocols in which medicines are already ordered. Certain medications are anticipated for specific patient populations and, therefore, are already ordered and available for the nurse to administer if warranted. 

What Is a PRN Nurse?

A nurse that works PRN works when a medical facility needs help. You may work PRN for a single hospital under contract, or work for several facilities whenever a temporary position is required.

A nurse that is PRN, will be asked to work when another nurse has called in sick or is requesting vacation time. Working in this position allows a level of flexibility within the nursing field. You can turn down shifts when offered, but stay available for the next open shifts.

It’s an excellent position for a nurse who needs flexibility and enjoys working in different departments. PRN positions vary in that you could be hired for only one unit and help out when required, or you could float to other units that are short all over the hospital within your specialty. 

If you don’t work on a hospital contract, you can work PRN for an agency and take jobs all across the city. You might work in a hospice facility for a couple of days and then work in the hospital at another time. It’s important to have a good memory when floating between facilities because each will have different policies to remember.

What Is the Average Pay for PRN Hospital Employees? 

There are a handful of circumstances that determine pay for PRN staff. You could earn less than what an agency pays, but the advantages are that you will be working in a constant environment instead of traveling to multiple locations. 

However, some employers pay medical professionals hourly wages comparable to what a regular employee will make but without the benefits. Generally, the employer’s pay is determined and greatly varies by your experience and the demographics of the area you’re working in and your specialty. 

Since you won’t be receiving benefits, you may be eligible for higher pay per hour. However, if you are employed by a staffing agency and work a certain number of months, you may receive benefits. Nurses who work overnight shifts or work within a specific specialty are capable of earning even more.  

On average, nurses who work within a hospital setting earn more than those who work within areas such as home health, nursing homes, or physician’s offices. 

How Often Do PRN Nurses Work?

Working PRN can have periods of more consistent shifts, especially in the summer and during cold and flu season. In the summer, RN’s will take the bulk of their vacation time and have a week’s worth of shifts covered.

During cold and flu season, nurses get sick, and the number of patients going through the medical facility increases. Hospitals will bulk up on PRN shifts during this time to ensure the hospital is prepared to take in a larger number of patients.

The holidays are another time of year, where more shifts will be available. If you don’t mind working on Christmas, then a PRN job is for you. You can depend on being offered shifts from November through January. 

Nurses who work regular full-time hours have holiday schedules in which they have to work certain holidays. But time and time again, units are short-staffed on those days. Therefore, it is usually easy to pick up holiday shifts. 

GOOD TO KNOW: some medical facilities offer up to double the amount of your base pay on a holiday.

A PRN nurse is in high demand for when another nurse goes on maternity leave, vacation, or family emergencies. The need to have RN’s cover shifts allows you to pick assignments you want to work, so it fits your schedule. 

Some RN’s might decide to stay at home with their children. These nurses don’t need consistent work and tend to work in PRN positions. It allows them time with their children, but still, have a source of income. However, it isn’t a regular income.

PRN vs Per Diem

These two terms are often used interchangeably. Per diem is a Latin phrase that means “per day.” When a nurse is per diem, this usually means a unit and subject employs them to those unit staffing requirements. It means a nurse works a day at a time, and not by a set schedule (unless you are covering a long term absence).

More often than not, units will call you to fill a shift for a single day at a time. Nurses get sick too or have children at home who are ill. An on-call nurse will then cover the shift for a day or two.

Essentially, both terms can mean the same. Nurses that work in PRN positions, however, have to work a certain amount of hours per month – mostly one or two days to stay on the payroll. 

Per diem nurses have even less strict schedules and are paid when they’ve completed a day’s work. Per diem nurses sometimes work to balance their home life with work, and maintain current within the medical field by working a few days every month. 

Last Thoughts

Take your time in deciding to apply for a PRN nursing position. A lot of factors will go into whether you can be successful and have the flexibility you want.

Consider the location of the position, as it could mean a lot of shifts or not. Deciding if not having benefits is worth the long periods of not working. Is going weeks without an income a choice?

If you decide to try PRN, it’s rewarding without the long term hustle of a full-time position.

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