The term PRN is a Latin phrase typically used in the medical field, which means pro re nata, translated, “as needed”or “when necessary”.
Simply put when you hear or see someone use the abbreviation PRN within the medical field they are likely saying, use as needed.
This is commonly used when prescribing medication (which we’ll refer to primarily in this article), however it may also be used to refer to other things.
For example when taking or giving medicine to a patient you may be told (or the prescription may state) to use the medication as needed.
It is important to understand that PRN “as needed” is different from medication that is scheduled to be used “as scheduled” every set number of hours.
Medicine that should be taken every 4, 6, 8, 12 or 24 hours for example is designed to work as prescribed and should be taken during that time frame, or as prescribed by the physician.
PRN (as needed) medication on the other hand should only be taken as needed.
For example a patient who is dealing with moderate pain from time to time may only need to take medication when the pain is present or when symptoms of the pain become apparent rather than taking it every set/scheduled number of hours.
If the patient experiences pain once per week or every few weeks then they would take the medication during those times “as needed”, not during a particular schedule such as every 4, 6, 8, 12 or 24 hours when it is not necessary.
It is also important to understand the difference between which medicine should be taken as needed and which medicine is required every set number of hours (on a set schedule).
Just because an individual does not believe the medicine is always effective it doesn’t mean he/she should skip their dosage and wait for symptoms to arise before taking their medication.
Important things to consider when using PRN medication:
- When should PRN medication be taken?
- How much medication should be taken?
- How may the PRN medication interact with other medications if taken collectively?
If you are unsure of the answers to these questions it is always a good idea to speak with a physician or pharmacist that is experienced with these matters as medication can have adverse effects if not taken appropriately.
In the medical field it is common for most medical abbreviations and words to be used in their native Latin language.
While this may make it difficult for some students to understand and memorize particular terms and abbreviation it allows medical students with different backgrounds and languages to receive the same experience, training and understand of medical terms in a universal language.
PRN meaning in nursing (other meanings)
In the nursing field a PRN position or job listing may refer to working only as needed.
In other words a nurse who applies for a PRN position may only work when they are needed, not on a set schedule.
This type of position may apply for hiring nurses to fill in a position when another nurse calls out or when there is an influx of patients and not enough nurses to fill the needs of their patients.
There are a number of pros and cons when it comes to doing PRN work based on the needs of the individual.
For example working a PRN shift may provide the individual with more flexibility in their work schedule allowing them to take on PRN work in addition to their primary work or as a replacement to working a regular schedule.
PRN nurses may also be able to work in more diverse settings with a variety of challenging experience as each job may be different.
On the other hand PRN jobs may not offer consistent reliable pay if work is rarely needed and options such as medical benefits may be less sufficient or not offered at all.
Those who choose to do PRN work should weigh all of the pros and cons prior to taking a particular position and may want to hire an agency to help them find and sort through potential job offers.
Things to consider for PRN positions:
- May be required to meet certain requirements before applying for a PRN position
- Schedule may need to be flexible and hours are not necessarily guaranteed
- Duration of work hours may vary (example: may work for a day, week or several months with daily hours of work varying)
- May/may not receive health benefits or pay when not working (varies based on work agreement)
- PRN jobs require nurses to be highly adaptive and be able to adjust to varying settings based on the situation (work can be unpredictable)