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What is a Per Diem Nurse?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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Per diem nursing is a form of nursing which is provided on an as-needed basis. Nurses who work per dieum can be under contract to a nursing agency or a hospital, stepping in to fill in as needed. This type of nursing allows for a lot of flexibility as well as an opportunity to work in many different work environments, but it also comes with some disadvantages.

Hospitals, clinics, and home nursing agencies often have a need for temporary labor to fill in gaps in their schedules. Per diem nurses can be used to fill in for people who are sick, to provide extra coverage during major medical crises, and to provide people with time off for maternity leave or a simple vacation. Per diem and travel nursing are often compared, except that travel nursing involves longer rotating assignments which can last for months, while a per diem nurse can sometimes have a new job every day.

Per diem nurses are usually not offered benefits. However, they are offered higher pay than regular nurses, in part because they do not receive benefits, and in part to recognize their flexibility and utility. A nurse who has certified in one or more nursing specialties can receive even more money, especially in a critical nursing shortage. Sometimes, a per diem assignment at a facility like a hospital can generate an offer of full time employment.

Just like other nursing professionals, people involved in per diem nursing must be fully trained, certified, and qualified nurses. They are expected to maintain professional certifications, and many are members of professional organizations of nurses so that they can keep up with trends in the nursing field. A person who works as a per diem nurse may appreciate the flexible scheduling which allows him or her to decide which shifts to pick up and when, but she or he also needs to be prepared for constantly shifting work environments, and for the lack of personal connections on the job because of frequent changes in assignment.

Many nursing staffing agencies have a department which offers per diem nursing services, and some companies specialize in providing nurses as needed. People who are interested in this type of nursing can apply to such agencies for long term or temporary positions in their per diem nurse staffing departments. It helps to have extensive experience and qualifications so that the nursing agency can feel confident sending a nurse out to a client.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By sunshined — On Jun 13, 2012

@SarahSon - Is there much flexibility in the travel nurse assignments that are offered to you? I have worked as a nurse for about three years. I am single, and have often thought about being a traveling nurse.

Of course I have some hesitations, but I also think there would be a lot of advantages to it. I am not afraid to travel to new places and meet different people, and think this would be a great time in my life to do both.

I have found that nursing is rewarding and I enjoy the patient contact, but get a little bit bored working at the same place all the time. If I could work someplace for a few months and then move to a new place, that sounds like the perfect amount of time to move from job to job.

By SarahSon — On Jun 12, 2012

I have not worked as a per diem nurse, but have enjoyed many years working at traveling nursing jobs.

When my husband retired early, I still needed to work, but we also wanted to start doing some traveling. I started looking at places where they were hiring traveling nurses and applied for some.

I will usually take a position for at least 6 months and this gives us a chance to see a new place of the country while I am still employed. This would have not been practical when our kids were young, but for this stage of our lives, it has worked out great.

I have been able to work as a nurse in places that I would have never thought about traveling to. There is something interesting everywhere you go, and I have also met a lot of great people.

The biggest disadvantage is getting used to the different systems that each employer uses for their nurses. Other than that, people are pretty much the same no matter where you go.

By bagley79 — On Jun 12, 2012

My mom worked as a nurse for 30 years before retiring. After a few months she found out that she kind of missed working and being around people. When she looked through the current nurse job openings, she saw a couple advertised for a per diem nurse.

This has worked out pretty good for her. Most of the time, she is scheduled ahead of time, so knows the hours she will be working. If they call her other times when she is busy, she can always tell them she isn't available.

Working as a part time per diem nurse seems to be a good balance for her. This gives her the time to do more things she enjoys doing, but she also finds that she does better when she is working a few hours a week as well.

By LisaLou — On Jun 11, 2012

One of my friends is a nurse, and when she was needing to pick up some extra hours, she started looking for per diem nurse jobs.

She ended up working at a nursing home a few blocks from her house. Most of the time she filled in when someone was gone or on vacation. The hardest part of this was working around her full-time schedule, but they were very flexible with her.

She was able to make a lot more money as a per diem nurse than working a second job somewhere else. Even a few extra hours a week really added up, and if she had tried to get a job as a waitress or something, she would have had to work twice as many hours.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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