The healthcare profession is full of acronyms and abbreviations.

PRN or “pro re nata” (we’ll get to that shortly) is just one of many such abbreviations.

This article is going to answer the question of what does prn mean.

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Introduction to Defining PRN

When I first got into nursing school medical abbreviations like this were always confusing me.

I would constantly ask myself

“why does the medical profession not spell things out like all the other professions?


“What is PO?”

Is it the same as NPO.

“What about B.I.D or T.I.D.”

Honestly, the questions kept going on and on. I’m sure you’re as frustrated as I was. It gets better.

Fast-forward to today, and most of these abbreviations are second nature to me. You know what they will be for you also.

Actually, you’ll eventually hate spelling things out.

You’ll start asking yourself why hasn’t anyone come up with an abbreviation for that phrase yet.

I’ve rambled on long enough. Let’s answer what does PRN mean. Let’s first look at the general meaning of PRN.

What Does PRN Mean

PRN is an acronym that’s widely used in medical jargon and documentation.

It’s also an acceptable abbreviation for joint commission. In other words not on Joint Commissions “Do Not use List of Abbreviations list” (source).

PRN is an abbreviation from the Latin phrase “pro re nata.”

“Pro re nata” depending on the translation means “as needed” “as necessary” “as the circumstance arises” (source).

You might also see PRN written as p.r.n.

What Does PRN Mean in Medical Terms?

As stated above PRN means “as needed”.” PRN is used many times when it comes to physician orders. You’ll see this a lot when it comes to pain medications.

For example, you might get an order that reads as such:

Tylenol 325mg PO q6h PRN.


Ibuprofen 200mg PO q6h PRN.

So in the case of Tylenol, it would mean you can give 325mg of Tylenol by mouth as needed every 6 hours.

Let’s clarify something.

This is different from scheduled medications that have to be given. So if the order was:

Metformin 500mg PO BID

It means you have to give the medication twice a day. Unless the patient refuses (but that’s a different topic).

When you’re talking to patients, you want to tell them the frequency of their medications. In the case of pain medications, you don’t want patients in pain.

But you also don’t want them to keep pressing the call light if it’s not time for their pain medication. If you tell patients PRN means they can have it

“whenever they want it”


“as they need it”

the patient might literally take it as they can have it whenever. Which is not the case. Let’s use the Tylenol example again.

What the order is saying is after 6 hours you can have 325mg of Tylenol if you need it.

After the patient gets the dose, they don’t get the option to have another dose until 6 hours from the last dose.

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4th Edition

A helpful book if you want to learn about terminology used in the healthcare field.

What Does PRN Stand for in Nursing?

You might hear or see nurses that are in a PRN position. What PRN means in nursing is similar to what PRN means in medical terms.

PRN nursing positions are also sometimes called “per diem.” Basically, what this means is those nurses are not on a set schedule like everyone else.

For example, full-time nurses are usually required to work 80 hours in a two week period.PRN nurses don’t have those requirements.

Depending on the hospital they may only be required to work a couple shifts a month.

It’ll vary from hospital to hospital. Sometimes from department to department in the same hospital system.

The primary objective of having PRN positions is to fill staffing shortages.

Or when the full-time nurses are sick or on vacation. As someone who has worked plenty of PRN nursing positions, I’m a fan. There are some pros and cons of PRN nursing positions.

So make sure you’re ok with them before signing up for PRN positions.

Pros and Cons of PRN Nursing Positions

Pros of PRN Nursing Positions

  1. Flexibility and freedom: PRN gives you a lot of flexibility to pick the shifts you want. Also to work when you want. At least more so than you would with a full-time nursing position.
  2. Supplement your income: PRN nursing positions are good ways to supplement your income and make more money as a nurse. I’ve worked with nurses who have had 2+ PRN nursing jobs.
  3. Higher per hour pay: PRN nursing staff are usually paid more per hour than their equivalent nurse peers.
  4. No drama: Some units and departments are known for being drama filled. As a PRN nurse, you have a better chance of avoiding the drama. It helps that you’re not one of the regular staff.
  5. Try out a unit before committing: I’ve heard of nurses that do this. They’ll start per diem in a department to see if they like working there. If they do, then they’ll apply for a full-time position when it’s available.

Cons of PRN Nursing Positions

  1. Your hours are limited and sometimes not guaranteed: PRN nursing positions are more temporary than permanent. Many hospitals have requirements for PRN nurses. Even with those requirements, your hours are not guaranteed. Also PRN nurses are typically the first to be canceled if needed.
  2. Not ideal hours: PRN nursing staff are generally needed in situations when there isn’t enough permanent staff. Or in shifts that have high call-ins. Usually, you’re looking at nights, weekends, and holidays.
  3. No benefits: PRN staff usually don’t qualify for any benefits. Which means no insurance, unemployment, retirement benefits and so forth.
  4. No consistency: PRN nurses need to be able to adapt to situations quickly. You’re more likely to be floated to other units than the full-time nurses.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are frequently asked questions related to PRN nursing.

What is a PRN position?

A prn position is a position that’s temporary in nature. So think short term work, part-time, or fill-in position. It’s a term primarily used in healthcare.

What is the difference between an RN and a PRN?

RN stands for registered nurse a PRN means “pro re nata” or as needed. So an RN who is PRN means they are not full-time staff and are probably just contract or short-term staff.

How many hours do PRN nurses work?

It depends on the facility but a PRN nurse can work between 0 hours and over 40 hours a week.

Why do PRN nurses make more money?

PRN nurses make more money than staff nurses because they don’t have the employment benefits (for example paid time-off and health insurance) that full-time staff have.

Are travel nurses PRN nurses?

Yes, you could consider travel nurses as PRN nurses because travel nurses are not permanent staff at a hospital. Instead, they work based on their contract.

What does prn mean on a job application?

PRN on a job application is for a position that fills in when there’s not enough full-time staff to cover a position. They could also be called in for when there’s call-ins by the full-time staff.


This article goes over the nursing terminology and the medical terminology for what PRN means. This is something nursing students need to know.

I hope you found this article on prn medical definition helpful.

A lot of acronyms and abbreviations will be thrown at you.

You’re going to feel overwhelmed by them.

Remember it does get better, and sooner than you think you’re going to love those abbreviations.

If you need more help with medical abbreviations check out some of these books below to help you learn them.

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  1. Very helpful as i am not a nurse but Live close To two hospitals that post many PRN positions in a variety of positions

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