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Work Less and Get Paid More! How Nurses Can Maximize Their Working Hours

Here is How Nurses Can Work Less and Earn More Money
Luis Molinero Martnez/

Work less and get paid more? Isn’t that everyone’s dream? Well, thanks to a nursing shortage with no apparent end in sight, that dream can very much be reality. But before you go quitting your day (or night) job, there are also some important potential downsides to be aware of, so that you can be prepared and ready for some very lucrative possibilities.

Agency Nursing

There are many staffing agencies that an RN can make top dollar at, through travel nursing, local contracts, or per diem/casual positions. Staffing agencies assist hospitals, long term care facilities, and many other settings to fill their staffing needs. Different agencies work with different hospitals and other facilities, some with exclusive contracts. This creates several options for you as the RN, making it possible to match your particular needs and preferences to the best available position. The following are some possibilities as an agency nurse.

Travel Contracts

As a traveler, the RN accepts a full time assignment under contract for a specified period of time, filling a needed position at a variety of locations across the US. Assignment length is often 13 weeks but can sometimes be negotiated, especially if it is filling an urgent need. Health benefits can be included, along with a travel stipend to cover the cost of housing while you are away from your primary home. If you have a friend or family member that you can stay with during your assignment, then the stipend you receive can add up to big bucks. Another possibility is to accept an assignment that might be within driving distance to your home but still qualify as far enough away to be a travel assignment. I know several nurses that drive 45 minutes to an hour for travel assignments, pocket the stipend, and still sleep in their own bed.

Typically a year’s recent experience will be expected to qualify for a travel assignment, and potential downsides include not liking your assignment and having to stick it out to complete your contract or possibly feeling homesick. You may feel some measure of instability with so many new things in your working and non-working environment, or possibly lonely while away from your home base.

Local Contracts

Local agency contracts often pay higher than travel contracts but will have no stipend. Local contracts are also full time for a specified contract length, often 13 weeks, and can also sometimes be negotiable as to length. It is not uncommon to be paid up to $15/hour above staff hospital nurses’ pay rates for the same job.

A year’s recent experience is also often required, and potential downsides to local contracts include not being able to renew if your unit no longer has a need to fill when your contract ends. Potential risk for burnout is something to be aware of also, as some nurses feel like they aren’t able to take much vacation so that they can sign back-to-back contracts.

Per Diem/Casual Assignments

Per diem/casual assignments are on a shift basis and may pay the same amount as local contract assignments. This allows nurses to have a primary job and pick up shifts that are available. Pay rates can be just as much as contract rates.

Down sides to per diem/casual agency positions include being the first to get your shift cancelled if patient census goes down. This is really good to be aware of, because depending on your hospital unit, this could mean getting called off for many shifts in a row. Another potential downside with any kind of agency nursing is that some feel that they are treated somewhat unfairly because of being an agency nurse (getting heavier assignments, etc). I have not come across this myself (that I was aware of…) but I have heard others vent this frustrating side of being an agency nurse.

Staff Per Diem/Casual Positions

If you currently work in the hospital setting, you could pick up a per diem/casual position at another hospital. Why might this be a great opportunity? Depending on the staffing needs, the pay may be surprisingly more than other local hospitals. I worked as a staff RN at one hospital for several years that would offer bonuses ($200 per 8 hour shift) and even double bonuses ($400 per 8 hour shift) to cover its staffing needs. This hospital was located about 30 minutes farther than the many local hospitals and paid $5-$6 more per hour as well.

Ever consider working in a nursing home setting? Even with no long term care experience, some nursing homes will readily hire RN’s on a per diem basis, some with as little as 1-3 required shifts per month. Is it worth it? In general, long term care facilities pay less than hospitals. But again, it may be surprising to see what kind of compensation comes out of a staffing need. One nursing home where I worked as casual staff had a sign posted next to the time clock that said “$100 bonus for all picked up shifts, in effect until further notice.” This means that after my 3 required shifts per month, every 8 hour shift came with an extra $100 attached to it. Not bad for a long term care job.

With a little investigating, you may discover some very lucrative possibilities. Do you have a year of hospital experience under your belt? Maybe agency nursing could be your next adventure. Willing to explore other options? Check out other hospitals or maybe one that’s a little more out of the way, or some local nursing homes. Inquire about their available per diem/casual positions. A great opportunity may be closer than you think and allow to maximize your working hours.


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About Christina Proctor, RN

I am Registered Nurse and a freelance writer and editor. For the last 15 years I have worked in the hospital and home care settings with several years in clinical management as well. Writing has always been a hobby and has grown to combine with my nursing experience, letting me take the work I love with me wherever I go.