Graduating nursing school students, as well as entry-level nurses, often wonder which is the best professional path they should follow. When it comes to choosing the employment type, there tends to be some confusion between PRN nursing and RN positions.
In a nutshell, PRN is an abbreviated term commonly used by healthcare employers to describe short-term, contract, or fill-in work done by a nurse or allied health professional.
It comes from the Latin “pro re nata,” literally meaning “as needed,” although some may also refer to it as “per diem nurse,” which means “per day nurse.”
The role of a PRN is that of filling the staff shortage gap at various healthcare facilities when the main employees are sick, on vacation, or taking unpaid leave.
While the position could feel insecure at first glance, the truth is that most PRNs don’t have trouble working the hours they need as long as they are flexible and willing to work nights, weekends, and holidays.
Although most nurses will aspire to a fixed position sooner or later, filling a PRN role may be an opportunity to gain professional experience, to get a glimpse of the area and local hospitals before choosing one, or even to supplement your existing job.
You might also want to work as a PRN if your family obligations require flexibility, while some PRNs just like the lifestyle.
What is the Difference Between PRN and RN?
As highlighted, PRN means per diem nurse. RN stands for a registered nurse. A PRN has to be a licensed registered nurse, which means you must have either an associate or bachelor’s degree as well as a professional license to work as a per diem nurse.
Some PRN may also be nurse practitioners, but whether you want to seek higher specialization or not is your call.
In this light, comparing PRNs and RNs is impossible. Any registered nurse can work as a per diem nurse at any moment during their career, and perhaps the only difference is the type of employment.
PRNs can decide whether or not to work with an agency or become part of a hospital’s staffing pool.
The former pays better, but agencies usually have higher demands as far as your qualifications and experience are concerned. On the bright side, if you manage to work with an agency, you can get various benefits, such as bonuses, medical and dental insurance, retirement plans, and maybe even paid leave.
Do PRN Nurses Earn More than RN?
Not necessarily. In most cases, PRNs earn less than hospital employees, especially if they choose to become part of a hospital pool. Besides getting lower average pay, you may also get zero benefits, which further lowers the pay.
Agencies may pay better than hospital pools, but you still can’t expect to earn more than an employee.
However, PRNs can walk home with higher monthly wages, mainly due to the shifts they work rather than higher hourly pay.
For example, most PRNs are on call during the night, weekends, and holidays; shifts that full-time employees are not that eager to work. Besides the hourly pay, you’ll also get bonuses for working these heavy shifts.
Some agencies may also pay more if they require their staffing to travel a lot or to compensate for not receiving benefits.
On average, you can expect to earn between $30 and $40 per hour, which would add up to an average annual wage of $65,470.
How Many Hours Does a PRN Work?
Typically, PRNs work as many hours as an RN, but the perk is that you have the flexibility to only work as many hours as you want.
To achieve the same salary level as a full-time registered nurse, you’ll have to work the same number of hours too. This means at least three 12-hour shifts per week or the equivalent. However, if you don’t want to work so much, you can decide to reject calls or turn down assignments, and only work shifts and hours you want.
Do PRN Nurses Get Employment Benefits?
Typically, PRNs get no conventional employment benefits, which is truly the greatest downside of this professional path. You can’t get sick time or paid leave. PRNs are also unlikely to be eligible for unemployment or disability pay.
That said, some agencies do offer benefits, such as paid leave, medical insurance, and even retirement plans if you commit to working a certain number of hours for them.
However, the benefits may come in other forms. For instance, you’ll never have to ask for days off, which could be a big advantage. You can also earn more by filling in positions when hospitals are desperate.
Another slight drawback is that you’ll have to constantly adapt to working with new teams unless you work frequently in one unit.
How to Become a PRN?
The first step to becoming a PRN is getting your nurse diploma and license. Once you’ve been recognized as a registered nurse, decide if you want to pursue a specialization or chase a PRN position immediately.
Without previous experience, it could be easy to join a hospital pool and work “as needed.” In such a position, you may be guaranteed a certain number of hours per month, but you may not have the flexibility to turn down assignments.
Nurses with at least a year of experience can usually join an agency. In such a role, you might have to travel from one hospital to another and agree to work in various roles, but you’ll be able to turn down the assignments when you don’t feel like working.
While this lifestyle ensures better life-work balance, keep in mind that you won’t get any benefits nor pay if you don’t work.
With this in mind, whether you should become a PRN or not is down to you.
So, what do you say? Would you see yourself working in such a role?
Tell us in a comment below; we’d love to hear from you. And if your nurse friends struggle to make a decision, don’t hesitate to share this article with them too.