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By March 29, 2016 1 Comments

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: 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 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.

I do hope this has helped answer your questions.


Posted in: Ask a Travel Nurse

About the Author:

Hello everyone. I’m a travel nurse originally from Ohio who graduated in 1993 from Mount Carmel School of Nursing in Columbus. I completed a critical care fellowship at Riverside Methodist Hospital in 1994 and started traveling in that specialty a year later. My first travel assignment was in Maui and since that time I have completed close to 40 different contracts in various states with multiple travel companies. I am the author of Travel Nurse’s Bible (A Guide to Everything on Travel Nursing), in addition to my writings here and in the pages of Travel Nursing publications such as Healthcare Traveler Magazine and American Nurse Today. I am presently on assignment in Phoenix, AZ and travel anywhere from six to eleven months of the year.

1 Comment on "Ask a Travel Nurse: What pays more — per diem or Travel Nursing?"

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  1. Andrew


    It’s been a minute since the OP posted this, but if you were looking for a good time town then Nashville is it. If you’re looking for any worthwhile pay, Nashville is far from it. It is one of the lowest paying areas of the country for nurses. The actual practice of medicine here is down right scary. “Mainlining” nitro and/or heparin and then piggybacking NS into that is common practice here in this region. If you are anything close to proficient before arriving here, you will be frustrated. I’ve been here for 4 years and have somewhat become used to not being used to the moronic ways medicine is practiced here. I won’t name names, but there are hospitals, one in particular, that are very good at making themselves look amazing on paper and attract nurses from states away; only to find out the pay is horrible and everything is backwards to hospitals in Michigan, Texas, Boston and NY. It’s beautiful here and very hip and VERY expensive for the most part – wages are not keeping up with the cost of living in any sense.

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