What does PRN stand for Medical Abbreviation Vector

PRN Meaning: Medical Abbreviation and Definition (2024)

by | Updated: Feb 13, 2024

PRN stands for “pro re nata,” a Latin phrase that translates to “as the situation demands” or “as needed.” It’s commonly used in the medical field to indicate that medication or treatment should be taken or administered only when necessary and not on a regular schedule.

This article explains the meaning and applications of the term PRN, highlighting its significance in healthcare settings and beyond.

What Does PRN Stand For?

The PRN abbreviation stands for “pro re nata,” which is a Latin phrase. Each word in the phrase has a specific meaning:

  • Pro: Latin for “on behalf of” or “for.”
  • Re: Latin for “thing” or “matter.”
  • Nata: Latin for “born” or “descending from.”

Put together, “pro re nata” essentially means “for the thing born” or, more loosely, “for the matter that has arisen.”

In the healthcare setting, it’s understood to mean “as the situation demands” or “as needed,” indicating an action should be taken in response to circumstances as they occur, rather than according to a fixed schedule.

Group of medical professionals PRN employees vector illustration

What Does PRN Stand for in Medical Terms?

In medical terms, PRN is an abbreviation derived from the Latin phrase “pro re nata,” which translates to “as necessary” or “as needed.”

It’s a flexible term used in healthcare settings that applies to both employment structures and medication administration:


A PRN job refers to a position that does not have a fixed or regular work schedule. Instead, individuals in these roles are employed on an as-needed basis.

This type of arrangement is common in healthcare facilities to ensure adequate staffing levels are maintained.

For instance, a hospital might have a pool of PRN nurses who are called in to cover shifts when regular staff members are unavailable, during unexpected staff shortages, or when there is an increase in patient load.

PRN Order

A PRN order pertains to a directive for medication or treatment, indicating that it should be administered to a patient only when certain conditions or symptoms necessitate it, rather than following a regular schedule.

This approach is essential for tailoring patient care to immediate needs and for preventing overmedication.

For example, a physician might issue a PRN order for an analgesic, allowing a patient to use the medication for pain management only when they experience discomfort.

While this is particularly common for medications like opioids, due to their potential for abuse and dependency, the PRN approach is broadly applicable across various types of treatments and medications.

It ensures that patients receive medications judiciously, reducing the risk of tolerance, dependency, and other side effects associated with continuous or unnecessary use.

Types of PRN Jobs

PRN jobs, characterized by their as-needed nature, are prevalent in the healthcare industry. These positions offer flexibility and are crucial for institutions that need to manage fluctuating workloads or provide round-the-clock care.

Here are some types of PRN jobs commonly found in the medical field:

  • PRN Nursing Positions: Nurses in PRN roles fill in for absent staff, cover additional shifts during high patient volume periods, or work in specialized areas when specific expertise is needed. They must be ready to step in on short notice and are often well-compensated for their flexibility and expertise.
  • PRN Clinical Support Staff: This category includes roles such as medical assistants, phlebotomists, and patient care technicians. PRN clinical support staff ensure that clinical operations run smoothly, especially during busy periods or when regular staff are unavailable.
  • PRN Allied Health Professionals: This group comprises a wide range of healthcare professionals, including physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and respiratory therapists. They provide essential services on an as-needed basis, often working in various settings like hospitals, outpatient clinics, and home health environments.
  • PRN Non-Clinical Support Staff: These positions might include roles such as medical coders, health information technicians, and administrative staff. They are essential for maintaining the operational aspects of healthcare facilities, ensuring that administrative tasks are handled efficiently, especially during peak times or staff shortages.
  • PRN Medical and Healthcare Specialists: This includes physicians, surgeons, psychiatrists, and other specialized practitioners who may work on a PRN basis. They provide expert care as needed, often in emergency departments, clinics, or for specific procedures or consultations.

PRN roles are not only prevalent in healthcare. They can also be found in other sectors, such as IT, education (i.e., substitute teachers), and customer service, where work demands can fluctuate significantly.

In all these positions, PRN staff provide a vital service, stepping in to ensure that institutions can maintain high-quality service and care, even when regular staffing levels are disrupted.

Pros and Cons of Working PRN

Working PRN offers a unique set of advantages and challenges compared to traditional, full-time employment.

Understanding these can help individuals decide if PRN work aligns with their lifestyle, career goals, and financial needs.

Pros of Working PRN

  • Flexibility: One of the most significant benefits of PRN work is the flexibility it offers. Employees can often choose when they want to work, allowing them to balance professional commitments with personal life, studies, or other obligations.
  • Higher Pay Rates: PRN positions often pay more per hour compared to full-time positions, compensating for the lack of benefits and the irregularity of work.
  • Experience and Skill Development: PRN work can expose individuals to a variety of settings and situations, providing valuable experience and opportunities to hone skills in different environments.
  • Work-Life Balance: The ability to accept or decline shifts provides control over one’s schedule, potentially leading to better work-life balance.
  • Potential for Full-Time Employment: PRN roles can be a stepping stone to full-time positions, offering a chance to demonstrate skills and work ethic to potential employers while getting to know an organization’s culture and team.

Cons of Working PRN

  • Lack of Benefits: PRN positions typically do not offer the benefits that come with full-time employment, such as health insurance, paid time off, or retirement plans.
  • Unpredictable Work Schedule and Income: The nature of PRN work can lead to inconsistent work hours and, consequently, fluctuating income, which can make financial planning challenging.
  • Less Job Security: PRN workers are often the first to be let go during staffing cutbacks, and there’s generally no guarantee of work from week to week.
  • Limited Career Growth: In some cases, PRN positions may offer fewer opportunities for career advancement or professional development compared to full-time roles.
  • Potential for Burnout: Managing the uncertainty of PRN schedules and working in potentially high-stress environments without the stability and support that come with full-time positions can lead to burnout.

Note: When considering PRN work, it’s essential to weigh these pros and cons in the context of your personal and professional circumstances, including financial stability, career goals, and personal preferences regarding work-life balance and job security.


Per Diem vs. Pro Re Nata


The terms “Per diem” and “Pro re nata” are often used interchangeably in the healthcare setting.

While they share some similarities, such as flexible work schedules, they have distinct characteristics:

Per Diem

  • Meaning: “Per Diem” is a Latin phrase that means “per day.” It can refer to the daily allowance employees receive to cover expenses while traveling for work. In employment terms, particularly in healthcare, it refers to staff who work on a day-to-day basis, without a fixed schedule.
  • Scheduling and Work Hours: Per diem workers are typically scheduled to work on days when additional staff is needed to cover absences or during times of high demand. Their work schedule can vary greatly from week to week.
  • Pay and Benefits: Per diem workers may receive a higher hourly pay rate to compensate for the lack of benefits and the irregularity of work. However, they usually do not receive the benefits that full-time employees enjoy, such as health insurance, paid time off, or retirement benefits.
  • Commitment and Flexibility: Per diem workers have the flexibility to accept or decline work on the days they are offered, giving them control over their schedule. However, they are often expected to meet a minimum availability requirement.

Pro Re Nata

  • Meaning: “Pro Re Nata” is a Latin phrase that means “as the situation demands” or “as needed.” In healthcare, it primarily refers to the administration of medication as needed but also describes positions where employees work only when required.
  • Scheduling and Work Hours: PRN workers have no set schedule. They are called in to work when there is an immediate need, such as an unexpected absence or a sudden increase in workload.
  • Pay and Benefits: Similar to per diem workers, PRN workers may receive higher hourly pay but typically do not have access to the benefits that regular, full-time employees receive.
  • Commitment and Flexibility: PRN positions offer high flexibility, with workers usually able to accept or decline shifts as they prefer. This can lead to very irregular working hours and potentially long periods without work, depending on the employer’s needs.

While both per diem and PRN workers have flexible schedules, per diem workers may have slightly more predictability and may be expected to meet a minimum availability requirement.

PRN work is highly unpredictable and truly on an as-needed basis.

Per diem positions might come with an expectation of a certain level of commitment in terms of days available to work, whereas PRN positions are typically more sporadic and unpredictable.

Both per diem and PRN roles are integral to industries like healthcare, where staffing needs can fluctuate rapidly. They offer workers flexibility and often higher hourly rates, but they also come with less job security and fewer benefits than full-time positions.

FAQs About PRN

What is a PRN Order?

A PRN order is a directive in the medical field that instructs healthcare professionals on providing care to a patient on an as-needed basis.

While commonly associated with medication, PRN orders can also apply to treatments or procedures that aren’t required routinely.

For instance, a patient with bronchiectasis might have a PRN order for airway suctioning. In this case, the respiratory therapist is instructed to perform suctioning only when excess mucus is obstructing the patient’s breathing, rather than on a fixed schedule.

What Does PRN Mean for a Job?

PRN, in the context of employment, refers to positions designed to cover shifts or workloads as required, without a fixed or regular schedule.

Employers, such as hospitals or clinics, rely on PRN staff to maintain operational continuity during staff shortages, peak periods, or when regular employees are absent.

For example, a PRN employee may be called in to cover for a full-time staff member who is on leave, ensuring that patient care or service delivery is not disrupted.

What Does PRN Mean for Administering Medication?

When related to medication administration, PRN indicates that a medication should be taken by the patient only when necessary, typically in response to specific symptoms like pain, anxiety, or insomnia.

The decision to use the medication is based on the patient’s immediate needs rather than a predetermined schedule.

Healthcare professionals, including nurses, physicians, and respiratory therapists, may be involved in administering or supervising the administration of PRN medications, ensuring that patients receive appropriate care tailored to their momentary needs.

What Does a PRN Nurse Do?

A PRN nurse works on an as-needed basis, stepping in to ensure adequate staffing levels in healthcare settings. Unlike regular staff, PRN nurses do not have a set schedule or guaranteed weekly hours.

Their role is crucial for maintaining patient care quality, particularly during unexpected staff shortages, periods of high patient volume, or when regular nurses are unavailable.

PRN nurses are part of a flexible workforce that allows healthcare institutions to adapt swiftly to changing demands, ensuring that patient needs are always met, whether due to a sudden increase in patient admissions or the unplanned absence of a full-time nurse.

PRN Nurse Doctor Vector

How Many Hours Does a PRN Nurse Work?

The working hours for a PRN nurse vary significantly and are not fixed or guaranteed. PRN nurses are scheduled based on the needs of the healthcare facility, which can fluctuate due to staff shortages, increased patient care demands, or other factors.

While this arrangement offers flexibility and the ability to balance personal and professional life, it also means that PRN nurses do not have a steady income stream, as their hours can change from week to week.

What is the PRN Nursing Salary?

PRN nurses typically receive a higher hourly wage compared to their full-time counterparts, compensating for the lack of regular hours and benefits.

The actual earnings can vary based on several factors, including:

  • Type of Healthcare Facility: Different facilities may have varying pay scales.
  • Geographical Location: Salaries can be higher in regions with a higher cost of living or where there’s a higher demand for nurses.
  • Experience: More experienced nurses often command higher wages.
  • Education Level: Advanced degrees or certifications can lead to higher pay.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for registered nurses is approximately $39.78.

PRN nurses may earn more per hour, but the lack of benefits and the unpredictability of hours must be considered when evaluating overall compensation.

How to Become a PRN Nurse?

Becoming a PRN nurse involves several steps, similar to preparing for a traditional nursing role:

  • Education: Obtain a nursing degree from an accredited program, which can be an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
  • Licensing: Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a licensed registered nurse.
  • Gain Experience: While not always mandatory, gaining experience in a healthcare setting can be beneficial.
  • Apply for PRN Positions: With your degree, license, and potential experience in hand, you can apply for PRN nursing positions in various healthcare settings like hospitals, clinics, or long-term care facilities.

Remember: Each healthcare facility may have its specific requirements or preferences for PRN staff, so it’s wise to research and understand the particular needs of the employers in your area.

Does PRN Get Paid More?

PRN medical professionals often receive a higher hourly wage compared to their full-time counterparts. This compensates for the lack of regular hours and benefits such as health insurance or paid leave.

However, the actual earnings can vary based on:

  • Type of Healthcare Facility: Different facilities may offer different pay rates.
  • Geographical Location: Wages tend to be higher in areas with a higher cost of living or where the demand for medical professionals is greater.
  • Experience Level: More experienced professionals usually command higher wages.
  • Education Level: Higher qualifications can lead to better pay.

Note: While PRN positions offer the potential for higher hourly earnings, it’s important to consider the overall financial stability, as these roles do not guarantee consistent work hours.

Is PRN the Same as On-Call?

PRN and on-call are different work arrangements, each with its unique characteristics:

  • On-Call: Employees are required to be available to work on short notice during their on-call period. They may not be working at all times but must be ready to come in if called.
  • PRN (Pro Re Nata): Employees in PRN positions work “as needed,” but unlike on-call roles, their shifts are usually scheduled in advance, offering more predictability and notice about when they will work.

Note: While both roles offer flexibility and are responsive to the needs of the employer, the key difference lies in the scheduling and predictability of work hours.

Are Travel Nurses PRN Nurses?

Travel nurses are specialized nursing professionals who take assignments in various locations, typically away from their home region.

While they share some similarities with PRN nurses in terms of working in different settings, there are distinct differences:

  • Contract Basis: Travel nurses usually work under a contract for a specific period, often ranging from a few weeks to several months, at a specific location.
  • Full-Time or PRN: Depending on the contract and the facility’s needs, a travel nurse’s role can be similar to a full-time position (with set hours for the contract duration) or more like a PRN role (with varying hours based on the facility’s needs).
  • Benefits: Travel nurses typically receive benefits from their contracting agency, including health insurance and housing allowances, which might not be available to PRN nurses employed directly by healthcare facilities.

Note: While travel nurses can work in roles similar to PRN positions, their contractual nature, benefits, and the scope of work often differ significantly from traditional PRN roles.

What is the Difference Between an RN and a PRN?

The terms RN (registered nurse) and PRN (pro re nata) refer to different aspects of nursing roles:

  • RN: This title is a professional designation indicating that an individual has completed the required education (typically a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in nursing), passed the NCLEX-RN exam, and met all other licensing criteria set by their state’s nursing board. RNs can work in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices, and their roles can be full-time, part-time, or on a contractual basis.
  • PRN: This term is not a title but a designation of the work schedule. PRN nurses are RNs who work on an as-needed basis, providing flexibility in their work schedule. They fill in for absent staff, cover additional shifts during high patient volume periods, or work in specialized areas when specific expertise is needed. While PRN nurses must meet the same professional and licensing standards as full-time RNs, their work hours are not fixed or guaranteed.

Summary: While all PRN nurses are RNs, not all RNs are PRN nurses. The main difference lies in the nature of their work schedules and commitments.

Is a PRN Job Worth It?

Whether a PRN job is worth it depends on individual circumstances and priorities. Here are some considerations:

  • Flexibility: PRN positions offer significant scheduling flexibility, appealing to those balancing professional responsibilities with personal commitments, studies, or other interests.
  • Higher Hourly Pay: PRN roles often pay a higher hourly wage than similar full-time positions, compensating for the lack of regular hours and benefits.
  • Lack of Benefits and Job Security: Unlike full-time positions, PRN roles typically do not offer benefits like health insurance, paid time off, or retirement plans. The irregularity of work can also lead to unpredictable income and a lack of job security.
  • Professional Experience: Working PRN can expose healthcare professionals to various settings and situations, providing valuable experience and skill development.

Note: Deciding to pursue a PRN position should involve a careful assessment of one’s financial needs, career goals, preference for flexibility over stability, and tolerance for variable work hours and income.

Final Thoughts

PRN, or “pro re nata,” is a versatile term with significant implications in healthcare and employment sectors. It underscores a responsive, need-based approach, whether in administering medication or managing workforce flexibility.

While PRN roles offer adaptability and potential for higher pay, they also involve irregular schedules and a lack of traditional employment benefits.

Understanding the nuances of PRN is crucial for healthcare professionals, employers, and patients alike, ensuring informed decisions in both patient care and career paths.

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.


  • Oh, Se Hwa, et al. “Pro Re Nata Prescription and Perception Difference between Doctors and Nurses.” National Library of Medicine, Korean J Fam Med, July 2014.
  • “Occupational Employment and Wages.” US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 31 Mar. 2022.

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