How I Transitioned From Full-Time To Per-Diem Nursing

Updated October 24, 2022

Nursing is a diverse profession with many career paths. Nurses have the advantage of working in a high-demand profession with flexible options. As a nurse, you can also enjoy the flexibility of working for more than one organization and even deciding when, where and how often you work. If you want to have more control over your schedule, earn higher pay and avoid the hustle and bustle of working as a full-time nurse, PRN or per-diem nursing may be the right fit for you. In this article, we caught up with Dr. Nickesha Francis, DNP (Doctorate of Nursing Practice), RN, to find out how she transitioned from full-time RN to work per diem.

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What is per-diem nursing?

Per-diem nursing is a role that allows nursing professionals to work as needed or by the day. Employers provide per-diem nurses with a schedule of shifts based on their availability. Per diem nursing also typically has fewer benefits than full-time nursing.

Pros of per-diem nursing

  • Freedom in scheduling

  • Flexibility

  • Higher pay

  • Can work in different environments

  • Able to continue your education with the added free time

Cons of per-diem nursing

  • Little to no benefits

  • No guaranteed hours

  • No guaranteed payment (your shift may be canceled at any time)

  • Need to learn to adapt quickly to new environments and units

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Transitioning from a full-time to per-diem nurse

Dr. Nickesha Francis says the flexibility of per-diem nursing was helpful while she pursued her DNP, and although her future career might be different, she continues to work per-diem shifts from time to time.

Question: How was it to work full time as a registered nurse?
Answer: “When I graduated nursing school, I just wanted to start working. The positions offered were 12-hour shifts during the day and every other weekend. With the school loans I had to pay, I had to take what I could get. I did not know there were other shifts at the time, and said, ‘If they can do it, I can too.’ In the beginning, the long hours did not bother me. Still, after three years of working full time, I started rethinking my working choices as my days got longer. I began to feel constantly tired and started feeling burnt out.”

Q: While working full time, were you able to create your own schedule?
A: “The nurse manager created our schedule, so we could not self-select. Nurses with seniority were given the first choice for days off, so many of my vacation requests got denied. I started rethinking whether I should leave my full-time position and become a per-diem nurse.”

Q: How did you go from full-time to per-diem?
A: “Before deciding to switch to per diem, I had to make sure my husband would carry our health insurance because I would lose mine. I also wanted to be sure we would be financially okay. When becoming a per diem, it's important that you have experience caring for different patient populations and are comfortable working independently. When you are per diem, you may be floated to different units that require different levels of patient care, and the experience allows you to be able to work independently.

Once everything was in place, I started looking for per diem positions in my current facility and others. I also went to several interviews and eventually landed my first per-diem position in a different facility. The process was fast because there was a great need to fill nursing positions, and per-diem nurses filled the staffing holes. However, if you are considering switching to per diem like I did, make sure that you know the pros and cons.

My manager was not happy, but I explained how my current full-time position didn't allow me the freedom I needed to make my schedule and take much-needed days off while making more money. Although I understood that I would probably need to have several per-diem jobs to make sure I worked enough hours to cover my expenses, the freedom of the position allowed me to work in different healthcare environments including community settings, private practices, hospitals, outpatient clinics and schools.

You can work per diem for a facility, through a local agency or travel agency.”

Q: Do you have any regrets about going from full time to per diem?
A: “In the beginning, I doubted my decision to change to a per-diem position because it was a new world for me. In my last year as a full-time RN, I made between $35-40 per hour, and during my first year as a per-diem nurse, I made between $55-65 per hour plus night shift differential. Although I was getting paid significantly more than when I was full time and working fewer hours, my shifts got canceled a lot. When there is a low patient census, staffing needs decrease, and the first ones that get canceled are the per-diem nurses.

To avoid monetary losses due to cancellations, it is a good idea to look for agencies that offer pay protection to per-diem nurses—and make sure it's written in your contract. If you are moving to per diem within your current facility, be sure to ask for the cancellation policy and whether you'll be compensated. Some facilities offer pay protection if your shift is canceled within a specific time frame.

In addition, I was able to continue my education during the added free time. Working per diem allowed me to take more classes, which helped me get to an advanced-practice degree faster. As many facilities do not provide tuition reimbursement to per-diem employees, I was able to use some of the extra money I made on a per-diem basis and pay for my education without taking any added school loans. My per-diem role helped pay for my graduate degree, which as a result, helped me attain my most recent doctoral degree.”

Q: What advice do you have for someone contemplating changing from a full-time to a per-diem (as needed) position?
A: “If you want to have the freedom to work around your family's schedule and make more money while working less, then go for it. Before you decide to go from full-time to per-diem, sit down and calculate your expenses and review the pros and cons before making your decision.

One thing you can also do is get a per-diem position and try it out before leaving your full-time job. Yes, you will have two jobs, but you can schedule the per-diem job around your current schedule and see if you like working in different environments. Many nurses change from a full-time position to per-diem and go back to full time. Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side, but not for all.”

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