PRN Medical Abbreviation: Significance In Medicine And In Nursing

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I first saw the PRN medical abbreviation used by a medical officer during a medical outreach I attended during my final year in medical school. The outreach was structured in such a way that the medical students manned different stands for history taking, checking vital signs, blood sugar check, urinalysis, and a final stand for drug dispensing. While the doctors who were available for the outreach manned the consultation stands.

I was placed at the drug dispensing stand, and our job was to dispense the available medications to the patients who were beneficiaries of the outreach in accordance with the prescriptions given by the doctors in the consultation stand.

So technically, we were the last set of medics that the patients will meet before they are sent home with their medications from the outreach or with a referral letter to a specialist hospital where they would receive special care depending on their illness(es).

During the outreach, I received a prescription order from one of the doctors for a boy who had allergies and it read;

4mg of chlorpheniramine PRN 4-6 hrs daily

It was the first time I was seeing the PRN medical abbreviation. And it was also disappointing as I was among the most senior medical students on my stand. Much disappointing was that none of my colleagues knew the meaning of the medical abbreviation PRN. So our last option was to find the doctor who wrote the prescription form to ask for the meaning of PRN.

It was then that I understood that the PRN medical abbreviation PRN means “As Needed”.

After the medical outreach, I had to confirm the meaning of PRN and when it should be used. That was when I also figured out that PRN could be used in many other contexts, and I have decided to share them all on this post in case you by chance meet the PRN abbreviation anywhere in your medical career either as a nurse, a medical or health science student.

So if you read this post till the end, you will find out the following;

  • The origin of the PRN abbreviation
  • Meaning of PRN in medical terms and its uses
  • PRN Medications
  • What Does PRN mean in Nursing?
  • What a PRN nursing job is like
  • Other uses of PRN in health care; PRN ambulance, PRN employees.

So let’s get started…

Table of Contents

What Does PRN Mean?

The medical abbreviation PRN originates from the Latin phrase “Pro Re Nata”. This means “As the need arises” or “as the circumstances arise”.

It is used to describe a condition when something or someone is put to use only when it is necessary or when it is needed.

PRN In Medical Terms: Meaning and Uses

Apart from the medical outreach, I have seen other occasions where the PRN medical abbreviation has caused confusion between patients and their caregivers. This issue is more pronounced in certain PRN medications compared to the others.

For instance, a friend of mine who is a nurse once shared a story of how she was debating with a particular CA patient over the administration of morphine.

In this case, the patient argued that the doctor wrote the medical abbreviation PRN in her morphine prescription (but followed by 6 hourly). And from her own understanding after she Googled the meaning; she should always get the morphine whenever she needs it.

On the other hand, the nurse was trying to make her understand that the PRN does not necessarily mean that she can have the morphine whenever she felt pain. But that the morphine should still be administered 6 hourly from the onset of the pain and not just whenever the patient needs it.

It took the intervention of another doctor on call to make the woman agree with the nurse’s explanation.

So what does PRN stand for when used in medications?

PRN Medical Abbreviation: Uses In Medications

PRN medication
PRN medications: What does PRN mean?

A PRN medication is that medication that is administered only when there is an onset of symptoms for which the medication is prescribed for. But such medications are still given in the right doses and at the right timing.

For instance, for the boy who presented with a history of allergies during the medical outreach I told you about, assuming the doctor wrote the following on the prescription;

4mg of Chlorpheniramine 4-6 hourly PRN, not to exceed 24mg/day, then here is the right interpretation:

The above prescription simply means that the patient is supposed to take 4mg of chlorpheniramine from the onset of his next episode of allergies every 4 to 6 hours and for each day, he must not take more than 6 tablets of the chlorpheniramine in a day irrespective of whether the symptoms persists.

In cases where the symptoms persist, then it is recommended that the patient reports to his doctor as soon as possible for review and possible change of his medications.

So as you can see, the medical abbreviation PRN does not mean that the patient should keep taking the medications whenever he has the symptoms. He must still follow strict guidelines so as not to abuse the medication.

PRN Orders: Examples Of PRN Medications?

A PRN order is a particular order usually written by physicians for the administration of PRN medications.

PRN medications are often those medications that are taken for chronic illnesses with the potential of causing acute exacerbations from time to time.

Examples of such illnesses that require PRN medications include;

  • Allergies
  • Nausea
  • Cough
  • Asthma
  • Sleep disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Hypertension
  • Itching
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Diabetes Mellitus and so on.

Also, Read: What Do The Medical Abbreviation PC Mean?

What Does PRN Mean In Nursing?

PRN medical abbreviation
What Does PRN Mean In Nursing?

Apart from the administration of medications by nurses to patients as needed, there is another meaning of the PRN medical abbreviation in nursing. This time it is used to describe a nurse who is employed in a hospital only on a contract basis and only works when the hospital needs them.

Who Is A PRN Nurse?

Sometimes, it is not easy to get a full-time job in a hospital and in such cases, a PRN job can be the only option.

PRN nurses are very important because ideally, hospitals cannot just close their doors on patients whenever they call in sick even when the full-time nurses are not around. It is in such scenarios that the services of PRN nurse is needed.

PRN jobs for nurses are often available during vacations, holidays, or when another nurse who is meant to fill the position calls in sick. And in this type of contract, the PRN nurse is paid based on the number of hours they were on call in that hospital.

What A PRN Nurse Job Is Like

A PRN position is ideal for a nurse who needs some flexibility at work. As a PRN nurse, you can be employed to fill in for PRN positions in just one unit and only come to work when your services are needed. Or you can be hired in by a hospital to fill in for different positions in different units in the hospital whenever the need arises.

Or if you are lucky enough, you can be hired by a PRN agency where you fill in for PRN positions in different hospitals.

The more opportunities you have to work in different units and hospitals as a PRN nurse, the more promising the job is and the more money you earn.

The average salary of a PRN nurse varies and depends on a lot of factors which include;

  • The number of hours you work and the type of work you do
  • The units and hospital you worked in
  • The season (some agencies double the pay for PRN nurses who work in festive seasons and on holidays)
  • Your rank and
  • The agency that hired you

But it is good to note that the average salary of full-time nurses is more than that of PRN nurses.

Also, Read; What Is The Meaning Of NABS Medical Abbreviation?

PRN Medical Abbreviation: Other Uses In Healthcare

What is PRN?
PRN Medical Meaning

The medical abbreviation PRN can be virtually used in almost every section of healthcare. Whether you are a nurse, a radiologist or sonographer, a lab technician, a therapist, a consultant, in fact in all the medical specialties and surgical specialties.

And they all mean the same thing. A PRN employee is employed on a contract basis and only comes to work as the situation arises.

Benefits Of Working As A PRN

There are numerous benefits of working as a PRN in different health facilities and they include;

  • As a PRN employee, you boost your profile and credentials and increase your chances of getting a better job. So always keep your eyes open for PRN opportunities because as you fill-up the spaces, it gives a boost to your CV and credentials.
  • It increases your overall experience: As a PRN, you keep getting exposed to different experiences and medical cases which broaden your horizon of medical knowledge.
  • You earn extra bucks every month: Working as a PRN even when you have a full-time job increases your overall earning and adds extra income to your portfolio.
  • It gives you the flexibility you need as a health worker
  • You build your relationships and social connections by working with other health facilities

PRN Jobs: Demerits

The major demerit of working in a PRN position is increased burnout and stress. Other health workers have also complained of increased transportation costs from one hospital to another while trying to fill up PRN positions.

PRN Medical Abbreviations: PRN Ambulance

I cannot write extensively on the PRN abbreviations without mentioning the PRN ambulance.

As you should know, an ambulance is a vehicle that is specially designed and equipped for carrying sick, injured, or dead people to and fro the hospital, especially in emergency situations. There is a company known as PRN ambulance in Los Angeles, California, and they provide patient logistics services to hospitals in Southern California just like every other ambulance.

Wherever you see a PRN ambulance, it simply means that the ambulance renders a PRN service. That is to say that they respond to emergencies when needed and it’s typically what every ambulance does.

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Final Thoughts On The PRN Medical Abbreviation

Medical abbreviations are a fast and efficient means of communication between doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and health workers as a whole. It is usually not a problem in communication except when the parties in the receiving end are not well-grounded in the use and meaning of such medical abbreviations and terms.

Misuse and misunderstanding of medical abbreviations have led to lots of issues including increasing patient morbidity and mortality and argument as seen in the story of the nurse and the patient who needed morphine.

That is why at Medarchive Magazine, we have started a vigorous campaign of enlightenment to increase the awareness of certain medical abbreviations, their meaning, why and when they are used.

Join us in this campaign by sharing this post!


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By Paschal Madueke

Medical Doctor and ICT enthusiast

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