Part time vs per diem: What should I choose?

By | 2020-11-23T15:11:00-05:00 January 10th, 2019|2 Comments

Editor’s note: Author, Jennifer Mensik, does not endorse, recommend or favor any program, product or service advertised or referenced on this website, or that appear on any linkages to or from this website.

Nursing is a great profession with many avenues to pursue, such as working part time vs per diem!

In addition to all the different practice areas is the ability to flex your work time. Working part time or per diem is a great way to keep your license active and work at a level that allows you time for other things in your life.

You could be a new parent and want to stay at home more, or maybe you are close to retirement but still want to be actively employed. Maybe you want to travel and see the world. To each their own! We are all just grateful you are actively working in the profession.

What is the difference between part time vs per diem? This is important to understand so you can pick the right role for you.

Part time vs per diem defined

First, its best to start with defining a few terms. I compiled generalized information, so don’t forget there are some state nuances. I always recommend reviewing your state requirements.

  • Full time: FTE stands for Full Time Equivalent. If you work 40 hours per week, you are a 1.0 FTE. If you were hired to work three 12-hour shifts, you are a 0.9 FTE (even if you work overtime or frequently reach 40 hours). A 0.5 FTE is typically 20 hours a week.

  • Part time: Part time definition varies by employer as state and federal governments do not decide what constitutes part or full time. Part time for one employer may be considered full time by another. Always check with your human resources department to give you the final word on this for your organization. This determination usually affects benefits eligibility.

    Part-time employees are usually scheduled, however, fewer shifts than a full-time employee. Between you and your employer, you are scheduled hours based on the status and FTE you were hired to fill. In the case of low census, you would get “credit” for the unworked portion of your FTE to keep you at your hired part-time status. Benefits of part-time employment are mainly around time. Part-time work gives you more freedom to do other things in your life, such as time with family or going back to school. It also may improve work-life integration with less stress. With part-time employment, you may be responsible for paying a higher amount of your healthcare benefits compared to that of a full-time employee.

  • Per diem: Per diem means “as needed.” In a per diem role you are not guaranteed hours, usually work less than full time and sometimes do not receive benefits. Per diem status might be noted as a 0.1 FTE. Even if you work full time, the status you were hired into is per diem. You are not technically guaranteed any hours and your position is one that is used for substitute coverage, such as sick calls, vacation or FMLA. One week there might be 40 hours for you and the following week there may be no hours for you. With per diem, there is no “low census.”

    The benefits of per diem are more freedom in scheduling your hours and an increase in hourly pay. The down side is if you need some amount of steady income, you may need more than one per diem position to obtain the income you need.

Staffing trends of employment statuses vary

Both part time and per diem statuses have different implications for staffing.

  • When developing a schedule, full-time staff may have first access to fill out their requested schedule.
  • Part-time staff are next for requests and are used to “fill in the holes” for vacations or maternity/paternity leaves.
  • Per diem staff may be used after full- and part-time staff are scheduled to fill in known holes, but often are called in a few hours before to work to cover sick calls.

A well-run organization, hospital or healthcare organization will have a mix of full-time, part-time and per diem staff to cover their schedules.

Which one is right for you? Typically, part-time and per diem positions are benefits eligible. However, the amount you are responsible to pay for benefits may vary based on your hired FTE. Often part-time employees pay higher employee rates than full-time employees. Per diem employees may need to pay an even higher amount (employer + employee portion) for the same insurance.

Part-time employees typically are paid the same rate as full-time employees and per diem employees may be paid a premium rate.

Ask yourself the following questions when considering part time vs per diem

  1. Do I need a guaranteed level of income weekly?
  2. How much do I want to spend on healthcare benefits?
  3. Does the per diem rate of pay provide the income I need?
  4. Am I okay working per diem knowing I am not guaranteed any hours?
  5. As a per diem employee, am I okay with being available more often?

There are many things to consider with working part time vs per diem vs full time in nursing. But having the option to flex your hours and contribute to our profession continues to be a great benefit of our profession.

Take these courses related to work-life balance:

Work-Life Balance: Learning to Say “No” Strategically!
(1 contact hr)
Leadership and management roles are highly stressful, and the more we take care of others, the less time we take care of ourselves. Lack of self-care can lead to compassion fatigue, personal health issues and deteriorating relationships with your staff. However, as the leader, we need to walk the talk and demonstrate work life balance to our staff. As nurses, we tend to say yes to everything. Learning to say “no” is hard. In this webinar, learn how to say “no” strategically to create work-life balance.

Nurse, Take Care of Thy Self
(1 contact hr)
Nursing is a stressful profession! Nurses are known for taking care of others at the cost of their own wellbeing. Lack of self-care can lead to compassion fatigue, personal health issues, and a lack of work life balance. When a nurse takes the time to care for themselves, both their colleagues and patients will reap the benefit. As easy as it sounds, it can be hard to create a work life balance, exercise, and be a nurse role model. When pursuing continuing education or a new professional role, self-care and time management are key to helping yourself be successful.

Empathy 101 for Nurses: How to Care for Yourself While Emotionally Supporting Others
(1 contact hr)
Nurses are called to care. You apply evidence-based practice, clinical knowledge, and critical thinking with compassion and empathy. Join this webinar to learn the difference between empathy and sympathy, and how to recharge and take care of yourself so you can take care of your patients.

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About the Author:

Jennifer Mensik, PhD, RN, FAAN
Jennifer Mensik, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, is division director of care management at Oregon Health and Science University and instructor for Arizona State University College of Nursing and Health Innovation DNP program. She also is treasurer for the American Nurses Association. Formerly, Mensik was vice president of CE programming for published by OnCourse Learning. A second-edition book she authored, "The Nurse Manager's Guide to Innovative Staffing," won third place in the leadership category for the American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Awards 2017. Author, Jennifer Mensik, does not endorse, recommend or favor any program, product or service advertised or referenced on this website, or that appear on any linkages to or from this website.


  1. Avatar
    Sally Smith January 28, 2019 at 12:58 am - Reply

    A few words of caution for perdiem nurses
    1. Do the math and avoid paying to work! Ask if you will be reimbursed for mileage and travel time from your home. Ask what might be the shortest and average length of time you may be onsite. Health Screening and Vaccination Clinics can be as short as 30 mins. Is there any reimbursement for non-working hours when you have to travel a distance for a split shift, i.e. 7am -9am and 1pm -3pm.
    2. Since you do not receive benefits ask for a percentage increase over the base. Initially it may not bother you but the longer you work and the more hours you put in — it does become frustrating.
    3. It is the companies right to ask you to work and it is your right to say no!

  2. Avatar
    Martha April 16, 2019 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    I’m going from Full Time to per Diem. After working 24 years as a home health aide. Was Pushed into it do to Not wanting to go to certain areas. Company is For Profit and Not there patients.

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