What is a Per Diem Nurse

What is a Per Diem Nurse, and How Do I Become One?

Per diem nursing has become an increasingly popular option for nursing professionals, but what is a per diem nurse, and how do you make the switch to becoming one? 

There are many reasons why a current or prospective nurse may want to work on a per diem or PRN basis. Below, we’ll be exploring what those reasons are, as well as additional things to keep in mind and how to go about making the transition. 

How Does Per Diem Nursing Work?

Before we get into the pros, cons, and logistics of becoming a per diem nurse, let’s review what it means to take on this type of role.

Per diem nurse meaning 

“Per diem” literally translates to “by the day.” In the nursing profession, working per diem typically means getting hired by facilities on a per-shift basis. This gives you the flexibility to work when, where, and however much you want and provides healthcare facilities with essential support for filling in staffing gaps and ensuring patients receive high-quality care. 

Per diem nurses have all the same basic training as full-time nurses, with the caveat that they work on a temporary, as-needed basis instead of on staff. Facilities, including hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities, will often utilize per diem nurses to fill in for absent or vacationing staff members. Others rely on these types of professionals to solve broader staffing issues. 

Notably, per diem nurses tend to have much more flexibility and autonomy in their assignments since they choose which shifts to take and which to pass on. They also have the opportunity to work with different patients and healthcare teams on a regular basis, which can provide a diverse and challenging work environment for those who want it. 

Also worth noting is that you may see this type of position listed as “PRN” instead of “per diem.” We use those terms interchangeably ourselves, though not every facility, agency, or staffing platform does the same. 

Per Diem Nursing Pros and Cons

There are many benefits to per diem nursing, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone. Here are some key pros and cons to remember as you decide whether or not making the switch is a good career move. 

Pros of Per Diem Nursing

  • Less risk of burnout – Per diem nurses get to make their own schedules, which includes taking time off if and when they need it and without permission. This greatly mitigates the risk of burnout, especially on a long-term basis. 
  • More variety – Opting to work on a per diem basis is a great way to put all of your training to use since you can work in different facilities and with different teams. Many per diem nurses enjoy the diverse nature of the experience and the unique challenges that come along with it. 
  • No long-term commitments – Per diem nurses get to skip out on the complex contracts and commitments that can lock them into a situation that isn’t ideal for them. If you don’t like working for a particular facility, simply don’t accept another shift there. 
  • Career advancement – The diverse experience gained through per diem nursing can be extremely valuable later on when you’re trying to land a dream job with a new employer. 
  • Higher hourly rates – Per diem nurses are in high demand, meaning competitive pay at higher hourly rates than those typically given to traditional staff nurses. 
  • Income boost – The more you work, the more you make. Rather than waiting for a raise or bonus, you can increase your income simply by taking on more shifts in a week. 

Cons of Per Diem Nursing

  • Lack of consistency – There isn’t necessarily any job security when you work per diem, nor is there a guarantee that you’ll be able to achieve the desired hours and shifts you need to maintain a consistent income. 
  • No standard benefits – Most per diem nurses sacrifice benefits like health insurance, employer-structured retirement plans, and paid time off.
  • Hard to specialize – Those who prefer to specialize in a specific area of nursing may not like that per diem nursing usually means taking on shifts in various departments and with multiple types of patient populations. 
  • Regular job searching – In order to sign up for per diem shifts (if you’re not working with an agency), you have to be constantly searching and applying for open shifts, and that can be time-consuming and stressful for some. 
  • Fewer advancement opportunities – While career advancement in per diem nursing is certainly possible, those working on a per diem basis may find that they don’t have quite the same opportunities afforded to them as full-time nurses do. 

Can You Per Diem as a Full-Time Nurse?

If you want the best of both worlds, you’ll be glad to know that it is technically possible to work per diem as a full-time nurse. However, whether or not that is an option for you depends on your employer and their policies around full-time staff taking on per diem shifts. Definitely ask before pursuing PRN work to avoid issues. 

Getting Started: How to Find Per Diem Nursing Jobs

There are a couple of ways to make the transition to per diem nursing.

Option 1: Work with a Nurse Staffing Agency

Staffing agencies pair you up with a recruiter who searches out per diem gigs that match your training, experience, and preferences. 

While it’s nice to have someone search for you, know that there are some pretty big drawbacks to going this route. Mainly, staffing agencies can be too expensive and/or slow-moving for many of today’s healthcare facilities, meaning that while you’re using the agency to look for per diem shifts, the shifts you really want are being posted elsewhere.  

Option #2: Work with an Online Platform Like nurseIO

We’ve made it our mission to help both healthcare professionals and facilities overcome the challenges of traditional staffing agencies. Platforms like nurseIO let you search on your own, connecting you directly with local facilities that need skills like yours. Set up a search based on your location and qualifications, then browse open positions and accept the ones that sound best to you. 

Whichever route you take, remember to double-check how the agency or platform defines per diem and PRN work and whether or not they use these terms interchangeably. Doing your research ensures you find the avenue that’s right for you – and that you quickly get on your way to switching over to fulfilling per diem work. 

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