PRN Nurse prepping for work at the hospital

A PRN Nurse, or pro re nata nurse, is a nurse who fills in open nurse positions as they’re needed. They are on-call to provide care when a nurse calls out, goes on leave, or a hospital is understaffed. 

Per the nature of the role, PRN Nurses do not tend to work in the same place or have a fixed schedule. 

Their work varies by assignment, though some will work routinely in the same hospital. Some PRNs will become so familiar with RN staff that they feel part of the regular team. 

As part of a temporary nurse pool, some PRNs exclusively work pro re nata for the same healthcare facility. Others move between locations to help fill staff shortages, cover a nurse’s leave, or fill in at the last minute. 

Being a PRN Nurse provides a level of flexibility that many nurses love, and it may be a good fit for you if you are interested in a more dynamic work environment.

What Does PRN Mean? 

PRN is a medical acronym from the Latin term “pro re nata.” In nursing and medicine, this means “as circumstances arise.” So, a PRN Nurse is a nurse who responds to calls and provides their services whenever they are needed. 

PRN Nurses enjoy being able to work when they choose. They can simply decline positions they aren’t interested in or turn down shifts that they are not able to work. This role works well for nurses who want to work part-time for various reasons. 

What is The Difference Between a PRN Nurse and a Registered Nurse (RN)?

An RN works a schedule. Their shifts can vary, but they are continually on staff at the same healthcare facility. PRN Nurses can work in a variety of healthcare settings. For example, they might be on-call in the ER at an urban hospital one week, then working the day shift at a family care practice the next. 

Being a PRN does not mean having fewer credentials than being a Registered Nurse. A PRN is an RN who works a more flexible and unpredictable schedule. They go where needed most rather than serving on the staff at a single facility. 

However, some PRN Nurses choose only to work on-call for one hospital or care center. Instead of having a schedule, such as three 12-hour shifts a week, they only go in when called. As a result, the department they work in can vary, too. 

What Qualifications Does a PRN Nurse Need?

A PRN Nurse must be a registered nurse with a valid license in their state. They must also work for at least one full year as an RN before becoming a PRN. This process ensures they are comfortable providing nursing to patients and can handle the on-demand nature of their work.

PRN Nurses can also choose to pursue additional certifications based on their interests. These positions could include psychiatric nursing, trauma care, intensive care, labor and delivery, emergency room care, and more. 

While you may still be assigned to different floors for a shift, PRNs with specialized training can apply for more jobs in various types of healthcare facilities.

What Work Does a PRN Nurse Do Day To Day? 

The jobs a PRN will complete each day will vary depending on the department. For example, if a PRN is called to assist in the ER, then they will work on treating patients in the emergency room throughout their shift.

A PRN Nurse called to work on the hospital floor will tend to admit patients. Depending on their facility's needs, they can work during the day or at night.

The PRN and RN share duties, so you’ll find yourself performing routine RN job responsibilities, including:

  • Taking patients’ vitals and monitoring symptoms.

  • Administering oral medication or IV drips. 

  • Perform many diagnostic tests.

  • Maintain, update, and organize medical records. 

  • Collaborate with other nurses and physicians about ongoing patient care.

  • Update staff on patients’ conditions during handover meetings.

  • Keeping detailed notes on patients’ needs and any changes to symptoms.

  • Drawing blood, taking urine or stool samples, or collecting lab specimens. 

  • Helping patients manage their pain levels through different treatments, including prescribed medications and emotional support.

  • Support patients and their loved ones by answering questions and offering comfort. 

PRN Nurses can adjust their schedules to suit their lifestyle and balance nursing with childcare, studying, or other life commitments. 

However, they must be flexible and capable of modifying their sleep schedule and daily routine to suit the needs of their current assignment. For this reason, it’s essential to understand the implications of becoming a PRN Nurse. As rewarding as the position is, it may not be the proper nursing role for everyone. 

Where Do PRN Nurses Work? 

PRNs work primarily at hospitals but also in urgent care centers and other healthcare facilities. A PRN can work 10 hours one week and 40 the next; the location and schedule differ greatly depending on the need and job opportunity in their area. 

Some work through agencies that send them different job opportunities in their area. PRNs will pick up shifts when nurses call out or go on leave, so they must be able to quickly adapt to new environments and “go with the flow” in any healthcare setting.

If you are interested in becoming a PRN, you must be comfortable with change. This requirement means being ready to jump into a new hospital and work alongside the regular RNs like they’re your long-time coworkers. 

The level of collaboration and teamwork necessary to deliver patient care never changes; good PRNs can jump into a team and do whatever they need to care for people in need. 

What is it like to be a PRN Nurse? 

A PRN Nurse’s job can be rewarding but comes with unique challenges. Because the work hours are based on assignment and availability, income can also fluctuate. This change in pay can lead to a lot of uncertainty and stress.

Healthcare providers may call a PRN to fill a role at a moment’s notice, meaning they must always be available. In addition, arranging childcare, pet care, and other necessities is essential in maintaining a stable work-life balance. 

PRNs may work nights, weekends, or holidays. However, they are always ready to go, so it is best suited for people who enjoy a more fast-paced work life. 

Life as a PRN Nurse can be relaxing if you enjoy working part-time, but it may also be problematic in terms of pay stability. In addition, some PRN Nurses may be older nurses who want to step back from a full-time schedule or parents who enjoy spending most of their time at home with their children. 

How Much Do PRN Nurses Make?

PRNs earn an average of $51,000 annually. However, their salary can vary dramatically depending on their hours and the hourly rate paid by the healthcare facility. PRNs are generally not eligible for any employment benefits, either, as they do not operate a set shift or set of hours in a given pay period. 

However, if you become part of a hospital’s temporary nurse staff, you may qualify for employment benefits by agreeing to work a certain number of hours weekly. To avoid confusion and misunderstandings, it’s always best to discuss this before signing on. 

It’s not uncommon for some PRNs to also work regular hours as an RN, then use their PRN salary to boost their regular income. In addition, you may qualify for higher pay in specific scenarios, such as last-minute holiday shifts. 

Are There Different Specialties of PRN Nurses?

PRN Nurses can choose to earn additional certifications in alternative fields. These include all nursing specialties, such as:

  • Ambulatory care

  • Cardiac care

  • Labor and delivery 

  • Neonatal care

  • Oncology

  • Pediatrics

  • Psychiatry 

  • Trauma care

  • Obstetrics

No matter what type of nursing you love, PRN positions may require your assistance. Furthering your education opens up more career opportunities, even if you decide to hold a full-time job in your specialty while doing PRN work as it becomes available. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Career as a PRN Nurse 

PRN nursing can be one of the most unpredictable nursing jobs. While it has its benefits, there are challenges to consider when considering if this is the right career for you. 

Advantages of Choosing a Career as a PRN Nurse

  • Greater work flexibility.

  • Opportunity to create your nursing schedule based on job availability.

  • Experience work in different settings and meeting a variety of patients.

  • Gain experience in various types of nursing based on job assignment.

  • Possibility to earn time-and-a-half or even double your hourly rate if you fill in last-minute positions.

Disadvantages of Choosing a Career as a PRN Nurse

  • The unpredictable schedule can lead to inconsistent income.

  • Required to be on-call for immediate response.

  • Often ineligible for employment benefits.

  • Get assignments left by other nurses, such as night shifts or holiday shifts. 

How to Become a PRN Nurse

PRN Nurses must earn their nursing license, then spend at least one year working as an RN in their state. You can begin your career as a PRN by first earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. From there, you can pass the national nurse licensing exam, the NCLEX-RN, and move on to gain the necessary work experience. 

Frequently Asked Questions About PRN Nurses 

If you’re considering becoming a PRN, you probably have many questions about the role and whether it’s the right career path for you.

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about becoming a PRN Nurse.

How Long Does it Take to Become a PRN Nurse? 

PRN Nurses must spend two to four years earning their RN, then another year gaining mandatory work experience. RNs who want to become PRNs can spend even more time acquiring the minimum requirements for additional certifications. 

Do PRN Nurses Get Paid More? 

Depending on the job type and assignment length, pay for a PRN will vary. Their average income tends to fall below an RN's, but it could easily be higher if they worked in high-demand areas.

When a hospital has a staff shortage or needs to fill a role quickly, PRNs may qualify for a higher hourly wage than the average RN. 

When they fill in at the last minute, some PRNs can earn time-and-a-half or double their hourly wage. Because they do not work a set schedule or have fixed hours, PRNs do not receive annual salaries. 

How Many Hours Does a PRN work?

PRN hours vary drastically by location and even by individual need. For example, some PRNs love being able to work as a nurse part-time, so they only work 10 to 24 hours a week. Other PRNs may have weeks off, then work 40+ hours a week as needed. 

The flexibility is an enticing part of the job, but it may not work for everyone’s living situation. Ultimately, you can have greater control over your work schedule as a PRN. Still, to receive consistent work and pay, you will need to work through a nurse staffing agency that provides you with plenty of job opportunities in your area.