What Does Per Diem Mean?
Per diem means “by the day” in Latin.
A per diem nurse is a nurse who is employed on a day-by-day or as-needed basis by a medical or healthcare facility, nursing home, outpatient clinic, or healthcare agency.
Per diem nursing refers to a type of nursing employment arrangement where nurses are hired to fill temporary staffing needs or to provide coverage for absences or shortages.
In per diem nursing, nurses are not employed full-time or part-time with a set schedule. Instead, they have the flexibility to choose the shifts they want to work based on their availability.
What is a PRN or Per Diem Nurse?
PRN is a Latin term for pro re nata, which translates in English to “as the situation demands.”
“Per diem nursing” and “PRN nursing” have essentially the same meaning and are often used interchangeably.
Whether your nursing job title is per diem nurse or PRN nurse, you only work when your institution has additional staffing needs that they cannot fill with their own “career” nursing staff.
The increasing demands of medical professionals in today’s healthcare environment – and the fact that patients are living longer (and are often sicker) than ever before – makes having the option to employ a per diem nurse even more essential.
Types of nurses that can work in per diem nursing include:
- Registered nurse (RN)
- Licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN)
- Certified nursing assistant (CNA)
- Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), such as nurse practitioners (NPs)
In addition, nurses can take per diem jobs in a variety of different facilities, such as:
- Nurse staffing agency
- Nursing homes
- Outpatient surgery centers and clinics
- Home health care
Some per diem nurses work back and forth between multiple institutions or as travel nurses!
About Per Diem Nursing
Many hospitals have their own per diem nursing staff. The fundamental responsibilities needed to be a per diem nurse are the same as career nurses. These nurses may be assigned to one particular unit in a hospital or can be resource nurses who can cover shifts in many different specialties within the hospital setting (as long as they are trained to do so).
Hospital staffing needs usually increase during holiday seasons or during times of high census in the hospital (such as during the COVID-19 pandemic).
In addition, there are nurse staffing agencies that arrange for nurses to work in hospitals that have additional staffing needs they can’t fill. These nurses work for “per diem nursing agencies” and may end up working multiple jobs in a variety of different facilities. Often, these nurses might work a few shifts at one hospital, and then a shift in another facility, all in one week.
Additional recommended reading: 5 Non-Bedside Jobs You May Not Know About
Per Diem (PRN) Nurse vs. Full Time Nurse: What Should I Choose?
Most nurses work full-time, at least for their first few years after graduating from nursing school. Novice nurses need to put the time in and develop their clinical and critical thinking skills.
It takes many years to build up nursing expertise at the bedside, so I would never recommend that a new grad nurse work per diem. If you are considering per diem work as a nursing avenue for your nursing career path, ensure you are experienced enough to manage the stress of working in many different environments.
As a former per diem nurse, I have found many benefits to working per diem nursing jobs that I would not have had if I was working as a “staff” or “career” nurse. If you are teetering on making a change into the per diem nursing career environment, these are the benefits of working as a per diem, or PRN, nurse.
Benefits of Being a Per Diem/PRN Nurse
#1. Higher Pay
Per diem nurses may earn higher pay rates compared to other full-time nurses part-time or part-time career nurses for several reasons:
Per diem nurses provide a valuable service by offering their availability on short notice or during high-demand periods. The flexibility they offer allows healthcare facilities to fill staffing gaps quickly, ensuring continuity of patient care – without making a permanent commitment to the facility.
Premium Pay Rates
Many healthcare facilities offer premium or differential pay rates for per diem nurses. This is because per diem nurses are not entitled to benefits like health insurance, paid time off, or retirement plans that are typically provided to full-time or part-time employees. The higher pay rate for per diem employees helps offset the lack of benefits and compensates for the additional flexibility required.
Specialized Skills or Experience
Per diem nurses often possess specialized skills or experience that make them particularly valuable to healthcare facilities. For example, they may have expertise in critical care, emergency medicine, or other specialized areas. In such cases, their higher pay rate reflects their advanced knowledge and the demand for their specific skills.
Since per diem nurses are not employed on a regular basis, the higher pay rate may serve as an incentive for them to take on temporary assignments. It compensates them for the uncertainty associated with their work schedule and provides an incentive for more nurses to prioritize per diem shift shifts over other potential opportunities.
NOTE: It’s important to note that while per diem nurses may earn higher hourly rates, they do not receive benefits or job security that full-time employees enjoy. Additionally, their income may vary based on the availability of shifts and the demand for their services, which can fluctuate over time.
#2. You Can Make Your Own Schedule
Per diem nurses have the advantage of being able to create their own schedules based on their availability and preferences. Those in need of a flexible schedule may want to consider becoming a per diem nurse. Here’s an overview of how per diem nurses can make their own schedules:
Per Diem Nurses Communicate Their Availability
Per diem nurses typically inform the healthcare facility or staffing agency about their availability to work. They may provide their availability on a weekly, monthly, or periodic basis. This allows the facility to know when the per diem nurse is willing and able to work.
Based on the nurse’s communicated availability, the facility or staffing agency will present available shifts for the nurse to choose from. These shifts can vary in terms of timing, duration guaranteed hours, and clinical setting. Per diem nurses can review the available options and select the shifts that align with their preferences and availability.
Flexibility in Accepting Shifts
Per diem nurses have the freedom to accept or decline shifts based on their personal circumstances, preferences, or other commitments. They can choose to work as few or as many shifts as they desire, depending on their needs and availability. This flexibility is one of the primary benefits of being a per diem nurse.
Ongoing Schedule Adjustments
Per diem nurses can update their availability and adjust their schedules as needed. They may communicate changes in their availability due to personal commitments, vacations, or other factors. Similarly, they can request additional shifts or reduce their availability if necessary.
NOTE: It’s important to note that while per diem nurses have the freedom to create their schedules, the availability of shifts is subject to the staffing needs of the healthcare facility. The demand for per diem nurse shifts can fluctuate, and there may be periods of high or low availability based on factors such as patient census, seasonal variations, or unforeseen circumstances.
Also, per diem staff and nurses should remain proactive in maintaining regular communication with their facility or staffing agency to stay informed about available shifts and to ensure a smooth scheduling process.
#3. Per Diem Nurses Can Pick Up Seasonal work
Per diem nurses have the flexibility to pick up extra seasonal work if it aligns with their availability and preferences. Many healthcare facilities experience increased demand during certain seasons or holidays, such as flu season, summer vacations, or winter holidays.
Per diem nurses can take advantage of these opportunities to earn additional income or gain experience in different clinical settings too.
Additional recommended reading: 8 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became A Nurse
#4. Per Diem/ PRN Nurses Can Often Decline Shifts
Unlike career nurses, who often have guaranteed hours and do not have complete control of their schedules, per diem nurses can choose to decline shifts if they don’t jive with their schedule.
This means that if you don’t want to work nights, holidays, or weekends, you usually don’t have to (or at least not as often).
#5. Per Diem Nurses Can Add a Shift at the Last Minute
One of the best benefits of a per diem nursing career is that PRN nurses can work between different hospitals at the same time. This often works well because if they end up getting canceled at one hospital, they can call the staffing office at their other hospital to see if they have any per diem nursing needs.
#6. Cancel a Shift at the Last Minute
Working parents understand the need for flexible scheduling. If your child (or yourself) becomes ill the day or two before a per diem work shift, then you have an opportunity to cancel yourself ahead of time. You don’t need to worry about whether or not you have enough paid vacation time or sick time saved up.
#7. Opportunity to Cross-Train in Different Specialties
Per diem nursing often offers additional learning and career growth opportunities at a healthcare facility because staffing needs require coverage in many different specialty areas.
For example, a per diem emergency room nurse, who also floats to ICU units, might also be able to cross-train for a PACU unit if they have staffing needs. Or a per diem pediatric ER nurse might get training to work in the adult ER if the need for a per diem nurse arises.
Another example is a per diem nurse who specializes in the NICU might be cross-trained for post-partum or antepartum units if they need additional nursing support.
Nurses who can be flexible and want mental stimulation may find that they have more opportunities than ever to work. When you have experience working in multiple facilities and several different nursing specialties, then you have a decreased chance of being canceled and not making any extra money for that day. Having experience in many different per diem nursing jobs can provide increased job stability and add valuable work experience to your resume.
#8. Per Diem Nursing Allows You to Add Vacation Time Into Your Schedule Without Taking Time Off
For per diem employees of nurses, there is no need to ask for paid vacation because it is possible to build vacation time right into your schedule. So go ahead and book that summer vacation!
For example, full-time per diem nurses often work three 12-hour shifts a week. You can schedule yourself to work on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday one week, and then on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of the next week. That leaves you with eight days off in between your shifts to hop on a plane for a week’s vacation.
Or just add in extra shifts early in the month and take the rest of the month off!
#9. Part-Time Per Diem Nursing
Many nurses who only want to work part-time appreciate the option to work in per diem nursing. Whether you have small children at home, want a better work-life balance, or have other side careers that you are pursuing, per diem nursing allows you to have that flexibility without altogether leaving the bedside, or your profession, behind.
As nurses get closer to retirement, some may choose to work a little less. If that is the case, then per diem nursing work is a great option. You can keep your foot in the nursing industry, keep your nursing skills and knowledge sharp, and continue to bring in some income while also having time to dedicate to the other passions in your life.
I hope this article helped you clarify whether or not being a per diem or PRN nurse is right for you. There are many factors to consider, but it is wonderful to work in a profession where this type of work environment is possible.
Additional recommended reading:
- Nurse Flexibility In The Workplace: How Becoming A Per Diem Nurse Gave Me A Work-Life Balance
- Unpaid Maternity Leave As A Registered Nurse: How To Make It Work
- 9 Personal Self-Care Goals I Set For Myself As A Nurse
- 5 Best Nurse Jobs For Moms
- Per Diem Nursing Gave Me A Work-Life Balance