What Is PRN in Nursing? Definition and Frequently Asked Questions

Updated March 10, 2023

When looking at your options for nursing, you may want to consider opportunities as a PRN nurse. These nurses do not have set schedules and function similarly to freelance or temporary workers in other industries. By understanding what this role entails and the advantages it offers, you can decide on whether to pursue nursing on a full-time or PRN basis based on your needs. In this article, we explain what PRN in nursing means and how to become a PRN nurse, and we answer frequently asked questions about the role.

Related: What Is Nursing? (With Job Examples and Salaries)

What is PRN in nursing?

The acronym PRN is a Latin phrase commonly used in the medical field that stands for "pro re neta," which translates to "as the need arises." PRN refers to nurses who do not work on a set schedule and instead work for hospitals whenever they are needed. They primarily fill staffing shortages, so the hours they work and where they work can vary from week to week.

The difference between a registered nurse, or RN, and a PRN is that a registered nurse works full-time and is often a permanent employee of a hospital or facility. Meanwhile, a PRN is a registered nurse who works as a temporary or short-term employee. Some full-time RNs may transition into PRN roles when they want to continue their career on a more flexible basis.

How to become a PRN nurse

Those interested in pursuing opportunities as a PRN nurse can take the following steps:

1. Obtain a degree

To become a nurse, individuals must earn an associate's or bachelor's degree from an accredited college. An associate's degree in nursing takes about two years to complete, with students focusing on their nursing studies and forgoing general coursework. A bachelor's degree in nursing takes about four years to complete, and it includes both general coursework and nursing coursework and clinicals.

Individuals can also obtain a nursing diploma rather than an associate's or bachelor's degree. It prepares students for entry-level roles and typically takes about two to three years to complete. Nursing diploma programs take place in a hospital setting or other health care institution and focus on providing students clinical practice and basic patient care knowledge. As a result, individuals spend significant time working as a nurse or nursing assistant while they earn their degree.

Related: Your Guide To Registered Nursing Programs

2. Gain licensure

After receiving a degree through a nursing program, individuals must obtain a license to practice as a nurse. The requirements of licensure vary by the state, along with the type of nursing they decide to pursue. To become a PRN, they need to take the National Certification Licensure Exam to become a registered nurse (RN). Then they must work as an RN for at least one year before transitioning into a PRN nurse.

Related: How to Become a Nurse

3. Find PRN nursing opportunities

When pursuing work as a PRN nurse, individuals generally have two options. One option is to apply to serve in the temporary nurse pool at a hospital, which means you are on a list that the hospital can call upon to fill in nursing roles when needed. They can also find opportunities through a medical staffing agency, which will connect them to nursing roles but may have strict requirements regarding credentials or skills. PRN nurses usually work in a more generalist nursing role, though some employers may seek nurses with particular specialties.

Working through an agency may provide added employee benefits, such as bonuses and insurance and retirement plans. However, working directly within a hospital's staffing pool adds the advantage of stability because agencies may have PRN nurses working at multiple hospitals or facilities.

Related: Q&A: What Is a Staffing Agency?

FAQs about PRN nursing

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about PRN nursing:

How does a PRN nursing schedule work?

PRN nurses fill staffing shortages, so they generally do not have a set schedule. These roles offer flexibility, so they can set their schedules and take assignments depending on their needs. Some PRN nurses choose their work on a shift-by-shift basis, while others can make weekly schedule arrangements with the hospital or care facilities.

If a PRN nurse has an on-call schedule, this means they make themselves available to work when the hospital has an urgent need. Others may receive their schedule in advance when a hospital needs them to fill in a specific role, such as for a permanent employee who is on leave.

How many days do PRN nurses work?

The amount of time PRN nurses work each week can vary from zero to over 40 hours a week, unlike full-time nurses who generally work about 40 hours each week. PRNs are similar to freelance or temporary workers, which means they can work as many or as few days as they choose. However, their options also depend on what is available from their hospital or agency, so some weeks they may have fewer opportunities to work than they would like.

If they are called upon to fill an urgent need, they may only work at that hospital for one to a few days that week. If they need to fill the role of a nurse who is on leave, they may work at the hospital for weeks. PRN nurses often pick up the shifts left open or unable to be filled by the hospital's full- and part-time staff. As a result, they may end up working nights, weekends or on holidays.

Related: How To Overcome Challenges as a Night Shift Nurse

Do PRN nurses earn higher salaries?

Because PRN nurses usually are not eligible for employee benefits from the facilities they work for, their hourly pay rate is typically higher than that of permanent employees. If they work for a staffing agency, they may receive a benefits package through them. However, some PRN nurses working in hospitals' temporary staffing pools may be eligible for benefits packages if they pledge to work a particular number of shifts each week. Some registered nurses even take PRN positions in addition to their full-time job to supplement their income.

What are the responsibilities of a PRN nurse?

Working as a PRN requires having the qualifications of an RN, which means they perform many of the same tasks. These duties include:

  • Performing and interpreting diagnostic tests.

  • Preparing patients for treatments.

  • Administering medications.

  • Developing patient care plans.

  • Maintaining and documenting medical records.

  • Counseling patients and their families on how to manage medical issues.

Due to the nature of PRN roles, nurses in these positions benefit from being highly flexible at work. Their hours may vary week to week, which also means they should have the ability to adjust their sleeping schedule as needed. They also should have a strong sense of general hospital and medical policies or procedures, as they may move around to different facilities and specialties.

Related: What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

How do you transition from PRN to full time?

Working as a PRN nurse enables individuals to gain relevant experience in the field, which many employers seek when hiring for full-time positions. Some hospitals and medical facilities may offer jobs that start as a PRN position but have the potential to become full-time, similar to temp-to-hire jobs. Nurses may need to work for the facility for a certain amount of time, and then the employer has the option to hire them full-time when that period ends. They can find these types of job opportunities through the facility or a medical staffing agency.

PRN nurses sometimes have the flexibility to work with multiple facilities at the same time, which enables them to get a feeling for how different hospitals in their area operate. However, if they focus on a particular hospital, then they can build relationships and a reputation there. Doing this may increase their chances of gaining a full-time role when one opens up because the employer has already seen their work ethic and abilities as a PRN nurse.

Related: What Does Temp to Hire Mean?

What are some advantages of PRN nursing positions?

As mentioned, being a PRN nurse enables individuals to have added flexibility in their work schedule, and they can sometimes gain more income than permanent employees. Some of the other advantages of pursuing PRN opportunities include:

  • Added freedom: PRN nurses make their schedules, which means they can decline shifts they do not want or cannot work. Permanent employees have less power to make such decisions, which means if they cannot work a shift then they may need to trade with a colleague or do a double shift to make up for the time.

  • Ability to try out units: Because PRN nurses may move from hospital to hospital or different departments within a hospital, they can gain experience in a variety of nursing specialties. As a result, some new nurses may choose to start in PRN positions to determine which medical unit best suits their interests. If these nurses work in a variety of hospitals, PRN roles provide a trial period where they can get a feeling of the work environment and their potential colleagues.

  • Better work-life balance: Working as a PRN nurse allows individuals to create a schedule that fits their personal life. As a result, if they want to spend more time at home or with their family, they can do so. Because they do not have a set schedule, they can also take personal time for vacations or holidays whenever they choose.

  • Opportunities for retirees: If a nurse decides to retire or leave her full-time job to pursue other passions, they can continue taking on PRN roles. As a retiree, they may want to continue working or making income on a more limited scale, which PRN jobs enable them to do. For those pursuing other passions, PRN jobs provide income and a sense of security while they explore their options.

Jobs similar to a PRN

For those interested in working in a nursing position, there are a variety of options. Here are 10 jobs related to a PRN position:

1. Travel nurse

2. Registered nurse

3. Licensed practical nurse

4. Clinical nurse

5. School nurse

6. Medical assistant

7. Nurse case manager

8. Physician's office nurse

9. Hospice nurse

10. Outpatient care nurse


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