PRN nurse walking through a hospital corridor

PRN stands for “pro re nata,” meaning “as the need arises,” which describes how a PRN nurse works. PRN nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who don’t have a routine schedule in one place, usually filling staffing shortages. This means their schedule, place of work, and responsibilities vary from week to week. 

What are the steps to becoming a PRN nurse?

There are several steps you need to take before you can become a PRN nurse. These steps are in place to ensure you have the necessary education and experience to adhere to the highest quality of care when working with patients.

Earn a nursing degree

The first step is to earn a nursing degree. Then, you can complete an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). It’s a two-year program and the minimum amount of education needed to become an RN.

You may need to have the following high school credits to be eligible to complete an ADN:

  • English

  • Chemistry

  • Microbiology

  • Communications

  • Anatomy

  • Physiology

  • Statistics

  • Psychology

Some employers require applicants to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This is typically a four-year program, but if you already have an ADN or a degree in a non-nursing field, there are ways to apply the credits you already have to your BSN to fast-track your education.

Gain state licensure

You must apply for licensure with the nursing regulatory body (NRB) to practice as an RN in your state before registering to take the exam. The eligibility requirements vary by state, so you’ll have to check what the rules are in your state.

Pass the NCLEX-RN nursing exam

The NCLEX-RN nursing exam is the test you must take before you can gain licensure as an RN in the U.S. It’s graded as pass/fail, and you have up to six hours to complete it. The exam features anywhere from 75 to 265 questions, depending on your progress.

The four main categories of questions are The Safe & Effective Care Environment, Health Promotion & Maintenance, Psychosocial Integrity, and Physiological Integrity.

Gain work experience

Once your program is complete, you’ve registered for a license, and you’ve passed the exam, you can practice as an RN. However, you have to work as an RN for at least one year before you can start practicing as a PRN nurse.

Apply for PRN nurse jobs

After your one year as an RN, you can start applying for jobs as a PRN in a variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals

  • Camps

  • Telehealth

  • Physician's offices

  • Emergency rooms

  • Schools

  • Public health centers

  • Birthing clinics

  • Law firms

  • Private homes

  • Correctional facilities

Read more: How much do PRN Nurses make?

Can you become a PRN nurse online?

You can fulfill the educational requirements for becoming a PRN online. Several traditional ADN and BSN programs are available, and you can take bridge and fast-track programs. However, hands-on experience is an essential to the learning experience, which you may have to do in person.

What is the difference between a PRN nurse and a registered nurse?

PRNs go through the same education and training as RNs do. In addition, they have the same responsibilities and permissions and require the same certifications. The only difference is that PRNs work on an “as needed” basis, while RNs typically work within a set schedule, in one location, with a routine regarding their responsibilities. 

Read more: What are the different levels of nursing?

What positions can you progress to from being a PRN nurse?

If you wish to advance your career beyond a PRN, there are a couple of ways you can do this. First, you can return to school to complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. You can get the certifications needed to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

From there, you have various options to choose from to advance your career. Some positions available to APRNs include:

  • Certified nurse practitioner

  • Clinical nurse specialist

  • Certified nurse midwife

  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist

  • Nurse educator

  • Director of Nursing

How much do PRN nurses make?

The salary of a PRN nurse varies from state to state. However, the average salary for a PRN nurse in the U.S. is $42.29 per hour ($51,102.24 per year), with a range from $34.11 per hour ($43.620 per year) to $55.55 per hour ($56,503.00 per year).

Read more: How much do Nurses make in each state?

How long does it take to become a PRN?

The minimum time it could take to become a PRN is three years. It takes two years to complete an ADN plus an additional year before you can practice as an RN before starting work as a PRN. However, if you want to further your career, you need a BSN later. If you think this is the route you want to take, it may take less time to complete the four-year BSN before taking the nursing exam. In this case, the journey to becoming a PRN will take at least five years.

Read more: How long does it take to become a nurse?

Extra FAQs about becoming a PRN nurse

Is working PRN as a nurse worth it?

Working as a PRN isn’t for everyone. The inconsistent nature of the job suits some people’s lifestyles perfectly but doesn’t work for others. There are several advantages and disadvantages to the position that you should consider carefully before deciding on this career path.

1) Advantages of working as a PRN nurse

The job of a PRN nurse can be the perfect job for someone who seeks flexibility. If you have something going on at home or need your attention, you have the freedom to be attentive. If you need to take a vacation, you can do that without permission or feeling like you’re leaving anybody high and dry.

You can pick up shifts for a boost in income. Some people have health issues, such as autoimmune disorders, that can arise at inopportune times. A job with flexibility can be a great option.

Not only would your schedule be flexible, but so would your location. Working in the exact location every day can contribute to burnout. On the other hand, working in various settings can help with emotional resilience and keep your performance up for longer.

Working as a PRN nurse can help you keep your life in balance, which many nurses struggle with.

2) Disadvantages of working as a PRN nurse

While you get to decide which shifts you want, that doesn’t mean they’re always available. There may be times when other nurses get the shifts you want. Even if you fill out the opening, your employer may send you home if it turns out they don’t need you. This means you may miss out on the hours and pay.

What may feel like flexibility sometimes can feel like a lack of control at other times, which can be very stressful. In addition, if yours is the primary income in your household, working as a PRN nurse may not be suitable for you, as the lack of stability may lead to times of financial struggle.

Since the jobs are based on short-term contracts with employers, you probably won’t have the benefits you would usually receive with a full-time job, such as health insurance or a retirement fund. Building relationships with the people you work with is also challenging because your time with them will probably be kept short.

What does it take to be a PRN?

PRN nurses have an extensive skill set that they use regularly. They share some of these skills with RNs in more typical roles, while others are useful in their less traditional position.

These skills include:

  • Adaptability

  • Excellent time management

  • Quick decision-making

  • Critical thinking

  • Organization

  • Communication

  • Compassion

A job as a PRN nurse requires you to be consistent in an inconsistent position. You need to be fast and accurate even though you’re frequently task-switching. It takes a dedicated nurse who can adapt to different circumstances with ease. Self-motivation is also vital, as you will get all of your shifts yourself without the comfort of knowing what comes next.

What does a PRN nurse do?

A PRN nurse's duties may depend on their setting, but they’re generally the same as any other RN. Their day may include writing detailed notes about their patients, ordering diagnostic tests, developing care plans for patients, administering medications, patient preparation for treatments and procedures, helping patients understand their care plan, advocating for patients, and speaking with the families of patients.

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