In this article, we’re going to talk about what per diem stands for in nursing and also touch on some pros and cons of per diem work.

So, what does per diem mean in nursing? Per diem is a Latin term that translates to “per day” or “for each day.” It’s used in the context of hiring nurses who are temporary. Their hours are not guaranteed and they’re scheduled to work around regular staff who might be off for vacation or sick leave.

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“Per Diem” Nursing Staff

As mentioned above, per diem nursing staff are used by facilities to fill in for regular staff.

Per diem is not the same thing as part-time because whereas a part-time nurse’s hours are most of the time guaranteed, per diem nursing staff hours are not guaranteed.

In many organizations, right after overtime nurses per diem nurses would be the first to be canceled for low census. 

Pros of Per Diem for the Nurse

You might be wondering why a nurse would choose to be “per diem?” Let’s go over that because there are several reasons why nurses choose per diem over full time or part-time.

1. The freedom to make their own schedule. While full time and to a lesser extent, part-time staff are at times locked into a certain schedule per diem nurses, typically get to choose what shifts they want for a schedule period.

For example, when I was working per diem for a facility, their schedule period was in 4-week increments. So, before a schedule period started, I went into the schedule and could pick the open shifts that I wanted for that period.

If not, I could wait and pick up shifts on a weekly basis if I wanted. If I didn’t do that many times, I would get phones calls at last minute asking me if I could come in and work.

2. The nurse is not really wanting a lot of ours. Whether it’s because of family or other personal reasons a nurse might not be wanting to work that many hours. If that’s the case per diem is an excellent option.

Actually, this is one of the reasons why we had written an article on why nursing is a good career for moms

3. Diversity in work. Some nurses even though they work 40+ hours a week, might not want to do it all in the same hospital or nursing specialty. For example, working per diem, a nurse could very easily pick up several shifts in different nursing areas (psych nursing, med-surg nursing, ER nursing, etc.) just because. 

Ability to earn more money. Per diem nurses tend to get paid more money per hour than regular staff nurses. So, if you don’t really need the benefits (ex. your spouse has benefits from their job), this becomes a lot more promising. 

Cons of Per Diem for the Nurse

It’s not all gravy; there are definitely some cons of per diem nursing. For starters…

1. Your pay may not be stable. I had mentioned that you could earn more money working per diem as a nurse. That’s true. But your income might not be stable because many times your hours are not guaranteed.

Also, when I gave my example above of picking my shifts. There were times when it was slim pickings. It was not too often because of the nature of the nursing profession, but it did happen.

2. Your work environment may not be stable. Per diem nurses, because they’re not the core staff also tend to be floated to other units first, so that’s something to keep in mind. 

3. You don’t get benefits. Typically, as a per diem worker, you don’t get benefits. Which means no health insurance, no sick leave, no paid time off, and no 401K.

If you have a spouse, who works and is eligible for health benefits, then it might not be as big of a deal. You can do an IRA for retirement.

But even with all that the no sick leave or paid personal leave means if you’re not working, you’re not getting paid. 

4. You don’t get as good of an orientation. This is something many nurses don’t think about, but if you’re starting out in an organization as a per diem nurse, your orientation is probably not going to be as good.

You’re going to get the quickest orientation possible because to the organization your probably not going to be working that many shifts and if you’re not as invested in them as a per diem nurse, they’re not going to want to spend the money investing in you. 

Pros of Per Diem for the Facility

Is there a benefit for the facility to having per diem workers? Yes, there’s several. First…

1. It’s a way for them to cover shifts. There’s a nursing shortage, and some areas have it worse than others. Per diem nurses are a way for a facility to do that especially…

2. Without committing to another staff nurse. For facilities with seasonality, this is a good way for them to cover shifts without having another full-time nurse especially if the census is going to vary a lot because full-time nurses do not like their hours being cut.

Cons of Per Diem for the Facility

The downside for the facility is that…

1. The nurse is not committed to the facility. Per diem nurses are just there to fill in the shifts. They might not be sold on the mission of the facility. 

How to Become a Per Diem Nurse

To become a per diem nurse you’ll of course need your nursing license, but you’ll also need some years of experience.

How much experience you’ll need will depend on the area and the facility. Many times, the more specialized nursing areas will want you to have more experience before they hire you on per diem. 

Going back to what I said above, they want you off orientation and working on your own as soon as possible. 

Look on the hiring page of the company or health system you want to work for. You could also try getting in touch with their nurse recruiter. There are also nursing agencies, as well. 

Is Per Diem the Same as PRN

So we went into detail on what PRN means in nursing in another article, so I’m going to go over it here quickly. PRN, which is Latin for “pro re nata” or “as needed.” Is similar but not the same as per diem.

With PRN many times you’re assigned to a unit, and you probably have work requirements. Per diem nurses typically do not.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, you found this article helpful. Let us know your thoughts below in the comments section, and please feel free to share this article.

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