Nurse Flexibility In The Workplace:  How Becoming A Per Diem Nurse Helped Me Find A Work-Life Balance

Nurse Flexibility In The Workplace: How Becoming A Per Diem Nurse Helped Me Find A Work-Life Balance

The nursing profession has some incredible flexibility perks that make it a whole lot easier for me to be a working Mom.

To start, I usually work three days a week, which is full time for a nurse. I am able to fit my 38-40 hours into 3 days instead of doing in in 5 like most of the working world. Occasionally, depending what is going on at home I only work 2 days, and on rare occasion, I’ll only work one.

My work days, however, are extraordinary long for what most people would consider a “normal” workday. I leave my house at 5:45 in the morning. Most evenings I don’t walk in the door until after 8;30 pm.

About 13 hours are spent at the hospital and I’m working my tail off every minute of it. My brain is completely shut off from all aspects of my home life during those long, arduous shifts.

Unfortunately, I don’t get to see my daughter at all on the days I work. I leave before she wakes up and I’m home after she goes to bed. I may as well be out-of-town on those days.

A 5 day work week becomes 3

Rocks balancing to symbolize work-life balance

Becoming a per diem nurse has given me a better work-life balance since I had my daughter in October 2015.

Unlike most professions I have the ability to only work three days a week (or less if I choose to). And that means that I get to be home at least four days a week to spend solid, interrupted, quality time with my daughter and husband. I love my days off and use them wisely!

On top of that I became a per diem nurse in May of 2016.

Per diem means: for each day. As a nurse, I am literally employed “by the day.” Hospitals need per diem nurses to cover staffing needs in the hospital, which can vary by the day or season.

Per diem nursing is a game-changer for me as a working mom. It is so flexible that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back to being a career RN again.

Benefits to being a per diem nurse

  • Significantly higher pay then a career nurse
  • Work as little as one day a week or as many as five days a week (as long as there is a need for an RN)
  • Make own schedule (if the hospital doesn’t need me they call me off)
  • Cancel at the last minute (as long as it is by 3am)
  • Add on a shift at the last minute
  • Incredible opportunities for growth. I never stop learning or being challenged
  • Work in many different specialties: Emergency Room, Cardiac, Liver Transplant, Medicine, Neuroscience and Stroke, or Oncology, just to name a few
  • Opportunities to “master in” to a unit that is chronically short on staffing needs for a period of time. This guarantees a certain number of hours for that time period

Drawbacks to being a per diem nurse

  • No benefits.  No retirement, no disability, no sick days, no vacation days, no paid maternity leave
    If I don’t work, I don’t get paid
  • The hospital can cancel me at the last minute. And they have, MANY times. Not fun when you have already have a nanny coming over that I am already obligated to pay even if I don’t need her
  • Many per diem nurses complain that they often get stuck with more difficult assignments then other nurses on the same floor
  • Must be a jack of all trades. Working with so many different specializes can be hard because each floor has a different patient population with unique needs and hospital protocols

Finding a work-life balance in per diem nursing

Rocks balancing to represent work-life balance

Being a working mom is more doable and less stressful now that I have a little more work-life balance.

I try to work every Monday and Wednesday and alternate working 1 weekend day every other week. That way I switch between working 2 days one week and 3 the next.

My husband has to be home by 5pm on the days I work so he can relieve our nanny. It puts a bit of a strain on him to have to leave work early those days but he makes up for it by staying late later on other days.

We share our amazing nanny, Ana, with another family whom she works with on the days she is not with us. We guarantee her 2 to 3 days a week whether I work or not.

Quality vs. quantity

I feel very fortunate, because I believe I have a balance between being able to work mostly full-time and be kind of like a stay-at-home mom on my days off.

Women doing yoga

Finding a work life balance helps me have a healthier, less stressful life.

If fact I think its possible that being a working mom with my schedule allows me to spend more quality time with my daughter than if I didn’t work at all.

When I’m at work I am completely engaged and focused. I look forward to thinking critically, applying my skills and helping to save lives. I’m constantly learning and applying myself in difficult situations.

Then when I’m home I can completely shut that part of my brain off and be fully present.

Our fun activities on one of my off-days typically includes going to the park or for walks, meeting friends out for play dates, cooking, errand running, or just hanging out at the house. There is a lot of reading, playing, giggling and even a daily nap (for Mommy too!).

Gratitude always helps

Since I work so hard at the hospital I am so grateful to be home and be Mom. Even running errands with my daughter is enjoyable (Zoe loves going out with Mom, especially when she gets to help me pick out groceries).

In all honesty, I’m often beyond tired on my days off, but at least I can compartmentalize the two parts of my life. Many careers don’t have that option.

Being a working Mom means making sacrifices and finding creative ways to make a work-life balance possible.

How do you find work flexibility? Do you have a work-life balance?

Sarah, Mother Nurse Love

Recommended Reading

Is Nursing A Good Career For Moms?

7 Ways To Beat Nurse Burnout

8 Ways Nurses Can Stay Healthy

How To Pump At Work As A Nurse

How I Prepare For A 12 Hour Shift

How I Prepare For A 12 Hour Shift

(This post may contain affiliate links.  You can read my disclosure policy here).

Preparing for 12 hour shifts as a registered nurse requires some prearranged ground work and organization at home to ensure my day starts off on the right foot. As a working mom, I know I will be gone for a large chunk of time so I do my best to make sure things are properly set up at home the day before.

Additionally, as a nurse I know how important it is that I take good care of myself so I can continue to give the best possible care to my family and patients.  After all, I can’t expect others to listen to my health education if I don’t take my own advice and stay healthy too.  No excuses!

My top 3 priorities for keeping myself and my family healthy as a nurse:

#1. Grocery shop and prepare all meals in advance

I grocery shop every three days so I am able to prepare meals for my toddlers and for each of my 12 hour shifts at the hospital in advance.  To avoid scrambling at the last minute I always make sure everything is ready and packaged to go the night before.

I prepare several options for the kids breakfasts, lunch and dinner such including:

  • Avocado or almond toast
  • Bananas, apples, kiwis, various berries
  • Black bean or chick pea pasta
  • Cheese squares
  • Veggies straws with hummus
  • Veggie/fruit smoothies
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Sautéed veggies

In addition, one day per week I make a big batch of quinoa or brown rice and keep it handy in the fridge for quick meal preparation. When I need it, I add veggies, nuts, seeds, dried cranberries, olive oil, tempeh or whatever else I have in the fridge at that moment. This is so convenient because I can whip something up  quickly for my work lunches and I also have it on days I’m home with the kids.

The Nutribullet is by far my favorite cooking tool.

In fact, I use it at least once or twice a day!  I make everything from veggie smoothies, to salad dressings, to soups and blended coffee drinks.  It makes my life so much easier, especially now that we have kids and time is limited.

In the mornings, I make a vegetable and berry smoothie with 1 tablespoon of Maca powder, flax seed and/or hemp seeds for protein, and acai powder. I alternate my veggies between broccoli, spinach and kale. For the berry part: strawberries, blueberries and raspberries although sometimes ill add half a banana or mango. (The Nutribullet is one of the best inventions of the 21st century, I tell you).

I also make several mason jars of overnight oats on Sundays with a variation of flavors:

  • Blueberry/strawberry/raspberry
  • Peanut butter and maple
  • Banana and walnut
  • Almond and raisin

I either add ground flax seeds or chia seeds for extra protein and antioxidant benefit. And I’ll top with a dash of cinnamon. These make such an easy breakfast to go!

#2 Sleep as much as possible before a 12 hour shift

Lets be honest – 12 hour shifts usually end up being closer to 14+ at the end of the day.  And, many studies show that working 12 hour shifts are damaging to nurse health due to the length of time that nurses end up working.    In fact, an increased risk of depression, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers have all been researched and publicized.

Since the shifts are not getting shorter anytime soon, they best thing that nurses can due to take care of themselves is rest as much as possible before shifts.  Therefore, I make it a huge priority to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep before shifts.  (This was so much easier before we had kids!)

I few things I use to help me sleep better at night:

  • Eye mask and ear plugs. After having kids I realized that I am am incredible light sleeper.  In fact, even the slightest noises wake me up in the middle of the night.  And sometimes I have difficulty failing back asleep again which is so frustrating when I work a 12 hour shift in the morning.
  • Restorative yoga poses. I keep a yoga pillow and a yoga mat right next to my bed that I use for restorative yoga poses about 20 minutes before I try to go to sleep.  It helps decompress my from my day, check in with myself and put me into a snugly and sleepy mood.

#3 Get regular exercise on the off days

I always feel so much better when I get my heart rate up on my days off. The benefits of exercise have been well documented and are essential for nurse self care.  It is no secret that regular exercise helps control weight, boosts overall energy, improves your mood and decreases stress levels.  Not only does exercise benefit the nurse personally, but it also helps nurses have the stamina to give better care to patients as well.

Need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A yoga session or brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed.  Which, in turn will help manage caregiver burden and help you feel your best.

For me personally, yoga has been a total game changer for my stress levels.  But its also great to change up the routine a bit, and I enjoy escaping with my headphones for a run and listening to music.  Whatever you do is great, as long as you actually do it!

Consider wearing compression stockings or compression socks.

Those who know me, know I’m a stickler for compression socks.  Wearing compression stockings helped me work all the way through two pregnancies and I continue to wear them to this day.  They help keep your legs energized, prevent varicose veins, and keep your ankles and feet from getting so swollen after being on your feet all day.  Plus, they come is the cutest styles now.

Being a working mom is hard work.

But with a little preparation and focus on your personal well-being and time management you can be both a healthy nurse and give great care to your patients.

So, what are you going to do for yourself to ensure that you stay healthy and thrive? 

Additional Recommended Reading

7 Ways To Beat Nurse Burnout

Nurse Health:  Self Care For 12 Hour Shifts

How Becoming A Per Diem Nurse Helped Me Find A Work-Life Balance