“So, what exactly does per diem mean in nursing?”

That’s a question I hear quite often.

And while it might sound like a phrase filled with medical jargon, it’s not as complex as you might think.

By the end of this article, you’ll know what per diem stands for in nursing and also touch on some pros and cons of per-diem nurse work.

What Does Per Diem Mean?

Per diem is a Latin term that translates to “per day” or “for each day.”

What Does Per Diem Mean When It Relates to Nursing?

A per diem employee, in this case, a nurse, is someone who is temporary. Their hours are not guaranteed, and they’re scheduled to work around regular staff who might be off for vacation or sick leave.


Many times you’ll also hear or see this referred to as PRN nursing.

What PRN means in nursing is just an abbreviation for “pro re nata,” which is a Latin phrase that pretty much means “as needed.”

You can kind of see that when people are talking about prn nursing they are also referring to per-diem nursing.

What’s the Point of Per Diem Nursing Jobs?

Per diem nursing originated as a means to handle varying patient volumes.

Today it acts as a safety net, especially during times such as flu season when patient intake can skyrocket. Or even in times of short staffing.

Hospitals rely on per diem nurses to ensure that patient care quality remains high regardless of the circumstances.

Pros and Cons of Per Diem Nursing

nurse monitoring patient

Here are some of the benefits of working per diem along with some of the disadvantages of working per diem.

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 work over full-time or part-time.

1. The freedom to make Your own schedule

Full-time staff and, to a lesser extent, part-time staff, have set schedules.

However, per diem nurses have the flexibility to choose the shifts they want to work during a schedule period.

For instance, when I worked per diem at a facility, the schedule period was four weeks long.

Before each period, I could select the shifts I wanted to work.

Alternatively, I could wait and pick up shifts weekly. If I didn’t choose shifts frequently, I would receive last-minute phone calls asking if I could work.

2. You Don’t Want to Work a lot of Hours

Sometimes, you may not want to work long hours due to personal obligations.

In such situations, working as a per diem nurse can be a great alternative.

In fact, this one of the reasons why PRN nursing was highlighted in my article talking about why nursing is a good career choice for moms.

3. Diversity in work

As a nurse, you may prefer not to work a full-time schedule of 40+ hours per week at the same hospital or within the same nursing specialty.

By working per diem, you have the flexibility to easily pick up shifts in various nursing areas such as psychiatric nursing, medical-surgical nursing, and ER nursing.

This allows you to broaden your experience and expertise and keep from getting burned out.

4. Ability to earn more money

If you can do without the benefits, per diem nursing may be a promising option as it typically pays more per hour than regular staff nursing.

This makes it a good choice for those who are looking to earn more money.

Cons of Per Diem for the Nurse

Although per diem nursing can have some benefits, there are also some drawbacks to consider.

1. Your pay may not be stable

I previously suggested that working per diem as a nurse could lead to higher earnings.

While this is true, it’s important to note that the hours you work may not always be guaranteed, which could result in income instability.

As for my personal experience with picking shifts, there were instances where there weren’t many options available.

However, this was infrequent due to the nature of the nursing profession.

2. Your work environment may not be stable

It is important to consider that per diem nurses may be floated to other units before core staff due to their temporary status.

3. You don’t get benefits.

As a per diem worker, usually you won’t receive any benefits.

This implies that you won’t have access to health insurance, sick leave, paid time off or a 401K.

However, if your spouse works and is eligible for health benefits, it may not be as much of an issue. For your retirement, you can open an IRA.

Nevertheless, the lack of sick leave or paid personal leave means that if you’re not working, you’re not getting paid.

4. You don’t get as good of an orientation.

This next one is important because it’s not something many nurses think about.

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.

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. 

CriteriaPer Diem NurseFull-time Nurse
HoursYou Choose!Predictable
PayOften higher hourly ratesSteady Salary
BenefitsFewer, if anyComprehensive
Job SecurityDepends on demandStable
Summarizes the points you need to know about per diem nursing.

Per Diem Nursing Pros and Cons for the Healthcare Facilities

female nurse smiling

Are there any benefits for a facility to hire per diem workers?

Yes, there are several benefits, but it’s important to note that there may be some cons specific to hiring a per diem nurse depending on the facility.

Pros of Per Diem for the Facility

1. It’s a way for them to cover shifts

The shortage of nurses is a pressing issue, with certain regions being more affected than others.

One potential solution for healthcare facilities is to hire per diem nurses.

2. Without committing to another staff nurse

Facilities that experience seasonal fluctuations can hire a per diem nurse too fill shifts without hiring another full-time nurse.

This is particularly beneficial when the number of patients fluctuates frequently.

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 work as a per diem nurse, you must hold a nursing license and have several years of experience.

The amount of experience required depends on the area and facility. Specialized nursing areas may demand greater experience before hiring you as a per diem nurse.

They prefer you to work independently as soon as possible, after completing orientation.

You can check the hiring page of the health system or company where you want to work, or reach out to their nurse recruiter.

Additionally, nursing agencies can also help you find work opportunities.

Key Takeaways

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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Frequently Asked Questions

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. 

The reasons vary, but the primary draw is often flexibility, the potential for higher pay, and a desire for varied experiences.

Absolutely not! They’re just as qualified but often have broader experiences because they work in multiple settings.

It can be, but it’s essential for new nurses to be adaptable and quick learners as the role can be unpredictable.

Yes, they do. They often undergo the same initial training, but continuous training might vary based on their work frequency and the facility.

All nurses, whether per diem or regular, have to adhere to the same standards of care. Hospitals ensure regular check-ins and training sessions.

Certainly! Many hospitals offer such transitions based on mutual interests and the needs of the facility.

There may be slight differences in meaning between different facilities, or they could be referring to the same thing. The important point to note is that neither per-diem nor PRN would be considered as regular full-time or part-time staff.

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