Which Pays More — Per Diem or Travel Nursing?

Ask a Travel Nurse

Ask a Travel Nurse: What pays more — per diem or Travel Nursing?
Ask a Travel Nurse: What pays more — per diem or Travel Nursing?

Ask a Travel Nurse Question:

Dear David,

I love my per diem position in Arizona — I am able to have maximum flexibility and still maintain full-time hours. Now though, I’d like to move to Nashville, Tennessee. How can I maximize my pay and my flexibility? In my experience per diem pays great, but is that always true in comparison to agency contract positions? What pays more — per diem or Travel Nursing? Thanks!!

Ask a Travel Nurse Answer:

My assumption is that in transitioning to per diem in Arizona, you first moved to that location, got established in the area, and then pursued a job with a little more risk (in regard to guaranteed hours, etc.). I don’t see why you could not do the same thing with Nashville.

Why not take a Travel Nursing assignment, see what the market is like, get yourself established, and then transition to a position in per diem? I may be simplifying things a bit, but from my end, I’m not seeing that it would be too complicated.

Maximizing your travel nursing pay and flexibility, may not always be possible in all markets. I’ve worked per diem in Phoenix and  it was not a position I would ever choose again willingly. With no guarantee of hours, per diem work can actually cause you to have less freedom in your work schedule. If I had availability Monday-Wednesday, I was not always needed on those days and had many weeks where I worked more weekends than I would have on a travel contract (due to the end of the week rolling around and needing at least some work hours). I also had one entire month where I was terribly short and my only saving grace was a strike in California that allowed me to meet my monthly obligations.

Additionally, I did not like the fact that as per diem, you were the most expensive employee and  could be sent home mid-shift, leaving you with the need to work another day.

As far as per diem paying better than contract positions, I’ve never thought that to be a certainty and it could be a matter of perspective. Often, a Travel Nursing position will provide a pay rate, travel monies, insurance and 401k, and either find you housing or offer a stipend. After you factor in all these things, I would think that per diem and  Travel Nurse rates would be similar, but depending on your situation, travel might actually come out a MUCH better deal.

In my case, a single medication that I find I cannot live without (Nexium for my GERD), makes any position offering health insurance a clear winner. The cost to work per diem and secure private insurance, with a prescription card covering my Nexium, would likely exceed any “extra” I was earning by working as a per diem nurse.

As with anything in life, it’s about finding what works for you, which is most often accomplished only after a good deal of research and perhaps some trial and error.

  • Subscribe to the Medical Solutions Blog

    Get updates sent to your inbox

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.