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.

What Does PRN Mean

PRN is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “pro re nata.” “Pro re nata,” depending on the translation, means “as needed,” “as necessary,” or “as the circumstance arises.”

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

It’s also an acceptable abbreviation for the Joint Commission. In other words, it is not on the Joint Commission’s “Do Not Use List of Abbreviations list.”

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

Medical Terminology Made Incredibly Easy! (Incredibly Easy! Series®)
A helpful book if you want to learn about terminology used in the healthcare field.

What Does PRN Mean in Medical Terms?

As stated above, PRN means “as needed.” PRN is often used in physician orders, and you’ll see it a lot when it comes to pain medications.

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

Give Tylenol 325mg PO q6h PRN.


Give Ibuprofen 200mg PO q6h PRN.

physician np order example

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

I’m going to clarify something that’s very important.

PRN medication orders are different from scheduled medication orders. For example, if the order was:

Give Metformin 500mg PO BID.

This 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” or “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.

Tylenol pain medication

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 after the last dose.

What Does PRN Stand for in Nursing?

It’s possible that you might come across nurses in a “PRN position.”

In nursing, the term PRN means something similar to its meaning in medical terms.

Essentially, it implies that those nurses do not have a fixed schedule like everyone else.

PRN nursing positions are also sometimes called “per diem.”

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

Depending on the hospital, they may only be obligated to work a couple of shifts a month.

It varies from hospital to hospital and sometimes even from one department to another within the same hospital system.

The primary objective of having PRN positions is to fill staffing shortages or to fill in when full-time nurses are sick or on vacation.

As someone who has worked in plenty of PRN nursing positions,

I’m a fan.

Nonetheless, there are pros and cons to PRN nursing positions that you should consider before accepting them.

Pros and Cons of PRN Nursing Positions

nurse monitoring patient

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 who 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 typically temporary rather than permanent.

Many hospitals have specific requirements for PRN nurses, and even with those requirements, there’s no guarantee for hours.

In addition, PRN nurses are usually the first to be canceled if necessary.

2. Not ideal hours

PRN nursing staff is usually required in situations where the permanent staff is insufficient, or in shifts where there are frequent call-ins.

Typically, these shifts are during nights, weekends, and holidays.

3. No benefits

PRN employees usually do not qualify for any benefits, which means they do not receive insurance, unemployment, retirement benefits, or other similar benefits.

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.

Nursing Terminology and Medical Abbreviations are Hard

When I was in nursing school, I found medical abbreviations to be quite confusing.

It made me wonder why medical professionals use so many abbreviations instead of spelling things out like other professions do.

To be honest, the questions just kept coming, and I was getting frustrated.

But now, most of these abbreviations have become second nature to me. If you’re new to healthcare, you’ll eventually get the hang of them too.

There will come a point when you’ll even get annoyed at having to spell things out.

You’ll start wondering why nobody has created an abbreviation for certain phrases yet.

If you need more help with medical abbreviations, consider checking out some of the books listed below to help you learn them more easily.

Helpful Resources to Learn Medical Abbreviations

Medical Terminology: The Best and Most Effective Way to Memorize, Pronounce and Understand Medical Terms: Second Edition
This guide provides an essential study resource for students aiming to expand or update their knowledge of medical terminology. It is particularly useful for those aspiring to join the medical profession as it can serve as an excellent supplementary resource for NCLEX or MCAT preparation!

Have You Read any of These Articles?

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

Here are some articles related to PRN medical abbreviations.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are frequently asked questions related to PRN nursing.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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


  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

  2. I heard a receptionist refer to a doctor as a PRN, but the doctor isn’t a nurse — he’s a doctor. Do you have any idea what she meant? He’s replacing a doctor at the practice who’s retiring

    1. Without more context it’s hard to say. My first thought is that he might just be filling in for the doctor who’s return and therefore they are just there on a PRN (as needed) basis until they find a permanent replacement.

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