With the travel nursing market down at this time, some “traveling nurses” have decided to take staff positions or per diem positions.  This week I want to look at the transition from travel to per diem and next week we’ll take a look at the transition from travel back to staff.

The biggest change that I have to make between travel and per diem is getting used to being called the “agency nurse” instead of the “travel nurse.”  Although there isn’t much difference, it is just getting used to being called something else.

When someone asks me about the advantages to per diem nursing, the number one thing that comes to my mind is my schedule flexibility.  When my agency calls, I know that there are several other nurses who are with the same agency who are also available and I have a choice on whether or not to work according to my financial needs and other engagements.  And yes, there are even time when I just don’t want to work.  Agencies are much more understanding about having a “mental health” day than if you work directly with a hospital.  At times, I really don’t want to work, but don’t want to leave them without someone to work; therefore, I will tell them that I really would prefer not to work, but call me back if you can’t find anyone else.  Of course you can’t make a habit of not taking assignments or the agency will stop calling.  Honesty is the best policy.  Discuss with your recruiter or scheduler on how many days you would like to work in a week, every two weeks (per paycheck) or every month.

Another advantage to working per diem is the pay rate.  From all the research that I have done, staff nurses generally make between $25 and $35 per hour, travel nurses make about $30 to $40 per hour, and per diem nurses make between $35 and $45 per hour.  Staff nurses have the most benefits with travel nurses having some, depending on the staffing company, but per diem nurses likely do not have benefits.  If you just left a permanent or travel job, for the next eighteen months you can use COBRA for medical insurance.  I have found that the cost of this is approximately the same amount that you can make in one shift per month.

One of the disadvantages to per diem nursing is the orientation process and getting access to the computer and medication systems.  Although most hospitals try their best, it is usually at least an hour or two before they get your user name and password.  At times, you will just have to use paper charting.  As a traveler, you get used to a lot of computer systems, so chances are that the computer system that your per diem hospital uses is the same.  With travel nursing you will have any where from four hours to four days of orientation.  As a per diem nurse, you will either have someone show you the medication room, clean utility and dirty utility room or hunt them up yourself.  Other than that, its all the same basic routine of doing your assessments, getting medications done on time, and taking care of new doctor orders or problems that come up.

As a per diem nurse, I find it most helpful to find the nursing assistant and make friends!  Although the other nurses are most likely going to be just as busy, usually your patient’s are also assigned a nursing assistant that is usually very helpful.  As soon as they find out that you are not above whipping hinny’s, they are usually your best asset as a per diem nurse.  Of course, for nursing documentation or other specific RN/LPN duties you will have to use the charge nurse as a direct resource.

When patient’s start asking you about nursing procedure or what time things are done at the hospital, it is always easiest to tell them that you aren’t for sure, but you will find out.  If you explain to them that you are new to the hospital, but if they will give you time you will find the answer, usually patients are pretty patient.  If you are a traveling working per diem at your home base location, this can open the “adventure” door.  People are usually excited to hear about all your adventures of a travel nurse and makes them feel more comfortable in the fact that although you are new to the facility, that you are a well experienced nurse.

Although per diem nursing doesn’t have the consistency of travel nursing, it can be a very rewarding career choice.  I really enjoy the freedom of per diem nursing while I’m home from assignments, and encourage any travel nurse to give it a try if you can’t find the right assignment for you!

Written by Kay Slane, RN, BSed, CGM (Certified Grad-level Nursing Management) Matriarch of Travel Nursing. The CEO of Highway Hypodermics®, LLC, the longest running travel nursing website by a traveling nurse. Author of “Highway Hypodermics: Travel Nursing 2019.”


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