What Does PRN Mean in Nursing?

As a nurse, you may come across several medical abbreviations you may not be familiar with. One such abbreviation is PRN. PRN is commonly used in the nursing profession, and it stands for “pro re nata,” which is Latin for “as needed.”

The term PRN is used to indicate that a medication or treatment should be given to a patient only when necessary rather than on a fixed schedule. Nurses use PRN orders to provide patients with relief from symptoms such as pain, nausea, or anxiety. PRN orders are commonly used in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other healthcare settings.

Understanding what PRN means is crucial for nurses, as it helps them provide the proper care to their patients. In this article, we will explore in detail what PRN means in nursing, how it is used, and why it is essential. We will also discuss some common PRN medications and treatments and provide tips for nurses on how to administer them safely and effectively.

Definition of PRN

PRN is the Latin term “pro re nata,” which translates to “as needed” or “when necessary.” In nursing, PRN describes medication given to a patient on an as-needed basis, rather than on a regular schedule. This medication is typically used to manage symptoms such as pain, anxiety, or nausea, which can vary in intensity and frequency.

A healthcare provider prescribes PRN medication, and a nurse or other trained medical professional may administer it. The healthcare provider determines the frequency and dosage of PRN medication and may be adjusted based on the patient’s response to the medication.

It is important for healthcare providers to carefully monitor patients who are receiving PRN medication to ensure that they are receiving the appropriate dose and that the medication is effectively managing their symptoms. Patients should also be educated on the proper use of PRN medication and should report any adverse effects or concerns to their healthcare provider.

Uses of PRN in Nursing

Pain Management

PRN, or “as needed,” medications are commonly used in nursing for pain management. PRN pain medications are given to patients when they experience pain rather than on a set schedule. This allows for more individualized pain management and can help prevent overmedication.

Nurses must carefully monitor patients who are receiving PRN pain medications to ensure that they are not becoming overly sedated or experiencing other adverse effects. It is also important to assess the effectiveness of the medication and adjust the dosage or frequency as needed.

Symptom Relief

PRN medications are also used to provide symptom relief to patients who are experiencing discomfort or distress. For example, a patient with nausea may be given an antiemetic medication on an as-needed basis. PRN medications can also be used to manage symptoms such as itching, coughing, or shortness of breath.

As with pain management, nurses must carefully monitor patients who are receiving PRN medications for symptom relief. It is important to assess the effectiveness of the medication and watch for adverse effects.

Behavioral Control

PRN medications can also be used to manage behavioral symptoms in patients with psychiatric or neurological conditions. For example, a patient with agitation or aggression may be given a PRN medication to help calm them down. PRN medications can also be used to manage symptoms such as insomnia or anxiety.

It is important for nurses to carefully assess the patient’s behavior and symptoms before administering a PRN medication for behavioral control. Nurses must also closely monitor the patient for adverse effects and assess the effectiveness of the medication.

PRN Medications

PRN medications are a type of medication that is given as needed or as required. These medications are not given on a fixed schedule but are given when a patient needs them. PRN medications are commonly used in nursing to help manage pain, anxiety, and other symptoms. 

Types of PRN Medications

Several types of PRN medications are commonly used in nursing:

Administration of PRN Medications

PRN medications are given when a patient reports a specific symptom or when a nurse observes a sign. The nurse will assess the patient’s symptoms and determine if a PRN medication is appropriate. The nurse will also check the patient’s medical history and other medications to ensure the PRN medication is safe to administer.

PRN medications can be administered through several routes, including oral, topical, and intravenous. The route of administration will depend on the medication and the patient’s condition.

Potential Side Effects

PRN medications can have potential side effects, just like any other medication. The side effects depend on the medication and the patient’s response. Some common side effects of PRN medications include drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, and constipation. The nurse needs to monitor the patient for any adverse reactions and report them to the healthcare provider.

Documentation of PRN Administration

PRN medications are an essential part of nursing care. They are given to manage acute symptoms and provide relief to patients. However, PRN medications must be administered with caution and documented accurately in the patient’s medical record. Proper documentation ensures the patient receives safe and effective care and protects the nurse from legal and regulatory consequences.

The documentation of PRN administration should include the following:

  • The name of the medication
  • The dose administered
  • The route of administration
  • The time of administration
  • The patient’s response to the medication
  • Any adverse reactions or side effects

The nurse should also document the reason for administering the PRN medication. This information helps other healthcare providers understand the patient’s condition and the rationale behind the medication administration. The documentation should be concise, accurate, and objective.

Electronic medical records (EMRs) have made documentation easier and more efficient. Many EMRs have pre-built templates for PRN medication administration, which can save time and ensure that all necessary information is included. However, nurses must still ensure that the documentation accurately reflects the patient’s condition and response to the medication.

Common Errors Made with PRN in Nursing

PRN is a common medical abbreviation used in nursing to indicate “as needed” or “pro re nata” in Latin. While it is a simple concept, several common errors made with PRN in nursing can lead to medication errors and patient harm.

One common error is not documenting PRN medications properly. Nurses must document the reason for administering the medication, the dosage, and the time it was administered. Failure to document this information can lead to medication errors, duplicate medications, or overdosing.

Another error is administering PRN medications too frequently. Nurses should follow the prescribed frequency and dosage of PRN medications as indicated by the physician. Administering them too frequently can lead to adverse effects or overdose.

Not assessing the patient before administering PRN medications is another common error. Nurses must assess the patient’s condition and document it before administering any PRN medication. Failure to assess the patient can lead to medication errors, adverse reactions, or ineffective treatment.

Lastly, not educating patients and their families about PRN medications is a common error. Patients and their families should be informed about PRN medications, how they work, and when they should be administered. Failure to educate them can lead to confusion, medication errors, or ineffective treatment.

Overall, nurses need to be aware of these common errors and take steps to avoid them when administering PRN medications. Proper documentation, following prescribed frequency and dosage, assessing the patient, and educating patients and their families can help prevent medication errors and ensure safe and effective treatment.


In conclusion, PRN is a common medical abbreviation used in nursing and healthcare settings, and it stands for “pro re nata,” which means “as needed” in Latin. Nurses use this abbreviation to document medication administration or other interventions that are given to patients on an as-needed basis.

Healthcare professionals must use medical abbreviations correctly and consistently to avoid errors or misinterpretations. Nurses should always clarify the meaning of PRN with other healthcare team members and patients to ensure safe and effective care.

Overall, understanding the meaning of PRN is essential for nurses and other healthcare professionals. By using this abbreviation appropriately, healthcare providers can improve patient outcomes and provide high-quality care.

Photo of author

Anna Curran. RN, BSN, PHN

Anna Curran. RN-BC, BSN, PHN, CMSRN I am a Critical Care ER nurse. I have been in this field for over 30 years. I also began teaching BSN and LVN students and found that by writing additional study guides helped their knowledge base, especially when it was time to take the NCLEX examinations.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.