Per Diem vs. Part-Time and What it Means for Your Future Staffing Strategy

Per Diem vs. Part-Time and What it Means for Your Future Staffing Strategy

Sophisticated nurse staffing strategies have never been more critical to the health of post-acute providers. From cost savings to keeping up with CMS, post-acute nursing leaders have increasing options to create a customized and flexible approach to staffing—one that supports organizational fiscal health and optimal outcomes for their patients. 

But successful implementation of these strategies requires awareness of the differences between categories of staff—one of the most important being per diem vs part-time. To find the optimal balance between per diem and part-time nurses at your facility, let’s look at some key differences between the two. 

What is Per Diem Nursing Staff? 

Per diem nursing professionals are most often used to fill unanticipated gaps in staffing. As a result, their schedules and hours worked vary from week to week. For example, a per diem nurse might work 45 hours one week, and none the next. This is where the title “per diem” is rooted, since these professionals are engaged day-to-day instead of on a longer-term basis. 

In the post-acute space, per diem nursing professionals are often used when other staff take vacation, are out on sick leave, or are unavailable for other reasons. Accessible through staffing agencies, per diem staff can also be useful during times of seasonal spikes when patient demands are higher, such as flu season, or holidays when full-time staff typically take time off. They are helpful when it comes to maintaining proper staffing levels in times of flux and unpredictable change. 

Benefits of leveraging per diem nurse professionals

There are distinct benefits to finding the optimal fit for per diem nurses in your staffing strategy:

  • Improved outcomes: The connection between nurse burnout, overwork, and patient care has been explored by multiple studies. Per diem staff can be an effective option to reduce strain, improve morale, and reduce burnout. 
  • A potential cost savings tactic: While per diem nurses cost more on an hourly basis, they don’t receive benefits, which typically results in cost reduction. This is partly because administrative costs are offloaded onto agencies—they handle compliance issues and paperwork, and also shoulder the cost and responsibility of recruiting. In some cases, you might even receive some tax benefits from implementing per diem workers. 
  • Access to an adaptable resource: The clinicians that work on a per diem basis are exposed to a wide range of specialties and settings. This means they’re used to working independently while filling gaps in staffing and in crisis situations. Per diem nurse staff can be up and running at your facility with minimal training. 
  • Meeting regulations: For skilled nursing facilities, per diem nurses will count toward federal minimum staffing requirements calculations since “individuals under an organization (agency) contract or an individual contract” are included.

Per diem nursing professionals are the future

Consider the growth of the gig economy and the fact that adoption of per diem models exploded at a 53% compound annual growth rate from 2015 to 2020 in the number of nurses who identify as per diem. A pandemic era survey of nurses also found that 73% believed that providers will need to offer more flexible scheduling for nurses as an incentive—a clear indication that nursing professionals are looking for increasingly flexible work options and that forward-thinking nurse leaders will need to capitalize on this shift. 

To ensure you’re getting the most out of your approach to per diem workers, work with a staffing agency that has a vision that aligns with your goals. 

What is Part-Time Nursing Staff?

Part-time (or PRN, pro re nata, or Float Pool) nursing staff are also used to fill gaps in full-time nurse schedules, but differ from per diem in several ways. 

  • They are dedicated to a single facility or organization, often to just one medical unit. 
  • You will work with part-time nurses to guarantee a certain number of hours and maintain the ongoing relationship. 
  • They generally receive benefits including healthcare. 

Like per diem nurses, part-time nurses will count toward federal minimum staffing requirements for skilled nursing facilities. Your part-time nursing staff will also be subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). While it doesn’t specify the hours worked needed to qualify as part-time, you should be aware of state and local regulations around definitions and minimum wage laws

Benefits of part-time nursing staff

The purposes of part-time vs. per diem nursing staff are difficult to compare directly since they’re ideally used for different purposes. But part-time staff does offer some distinct benefits. 

  • A foundation of your staffing strategy: Since part-time staff are typically dedicated to one facility, they’re highly useful in creating the foundation of your staffing strategy in conjunction with full-time nursing staff.
  • Insurance against burnout: Since part-time nursing professionals are dedicated and generally working fewer hours, they can be useful in preventing burnout and helping you retain more of your staff.  
  • They get to know patients and coworkers: Since part-time staff can get to know your residents and other staff at deeper levels, they can play a valuable role in creating a “homelike” atmosphere where they can create personal relationships over the long-term. 

For the vast majority of post-acute facilities, the question of part-time vs. per diem isn’t a dichotomy—instead, they’re working to leverage both as valuable resources in creating the staffing strategy that best aligns with their goals. As you build out your perfect nurse staffing mix, we’d like to offer you a few support resources and also invite you to explore the kind of technology that can help you execute on your plans. 


Megan is a business writer with over 15 years’ experience in healthcare enterprise technology. She holds an MBA and B.S. in Healthcare Administration. She now keeps an ongoing eye on the latest developments and successes in healthcare admin technology and the people who use it to build a better world for providers, patients, and their care communities.


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