The power of flexibility: PRN shifts are changing the future of healthcare

A nurse, in green scrubs with a travel mug and phone, heads to a PRN shift found on the ShiftKey app.

Per-diem. PRN. Pro re nata. These are all different ways to say “as needed,” and they’re usually attached to the word “shift.” Licensed professionals use PRN shifts to work when and where they want. Facilities use PRN shifts to solve real-time workforce shortages due to call outs, increased occupancy and the like.

Because of their flexible nature, PRN shifts could be an alternative for healthcare workers otherwise planning to leave the profession or those looking to make additional income on top of a full-time position. PRN shifts might even bring some licensed professionals back to the workforce. That could have a positive impact on the industry, which needs to meet an increasing demand for care.

How flexible work has the potential to change the healthcare industry

Flexible work has been a growing trend since the 1990s, and after COVID-19, it has practically been a given for many people. But for the most part, flexible work hasn’t been available to essential workers. (The term “essential worker” was coined during the pandemic to represent people who could not work from home.)

PRN shifts are healthcare’s version of flexible work.

More nurses are choosing to work PRN to find relief from the nationwide nursing shortage. As has been reported, that shortage is resulting in nurse burnout and devastating patient outcomes.

Healthcare professionals cite those devastating outcomes as one of the reasons they’re leaving the industry. Since facilities use PRN shifts to help them maintain an adequate workforce, PRN shifts can be a tool that facilities use to relieve pressure on their internal staff.

Traditionally, staffing agencies have been the middlemen between facilities that need PRN coverage and the licensed professionals available to work PRN shifts. But during the past decade, technology companies like ShiftKey have been revolutionizing the industry by enabling facilities and independent professionals to connect directly on demand, a process that can take hours or even days via an agency.

The time lag that can be produced by traditional staffing solutions can be critical in an emergency. SSM Health, a hospital system based in the Midwest, noticed an improvement after partnering with a technology platform to fill PRN shifts. Their system vice president of nursing says that having a technology platform on board served as a lifeline during COVID-19. In 2022, flexible licensed professionals filled nearly 1 million hours among their 20 hospitals.

Independent professionals are noticing the difference too. Austin, a CNA, said: “I was surprised by how much energy I had when I was able to go PRN with the ShiftKey app. I was used to waking up at 4:30 a.m., and I didn't have to do that anymore. Just the hours that I was saving for myself were fantastic.”

How PRN is redefining work-life balance for independent licensed professionals

Though Austin is enjoying more work-life balance now that he works PRN shifts, in healthcare in general, the hours are long, the pace is swift and the work is hard.

But by working PRN shifts, independent professionals like Austin have control over their schedules, which may help them to feel more balanced. Personal commitments are easier to attend to because it’s possible to mold PRN schedules around family needs, personal time and even full-time jobs. And when people can fit work around their lives, it can empower them in other ways.

Annamarie, an independent physical therapist assistant, says that using the ShiftKey app enables her to put herself first: “The more per diem I did, I realized I put myself first during the day so I could be open and a better person for my patients.”

Picking up PRN shifts can also help those who need to cover an unexpected expense or save up for a big purchase work around an existing job. Candice, a CNA, works a full-time job and uses the ShiftKey app to make extra money.

Stories like Austin’s, Annamarie’s and Candice’s aren’t only being told in the healthcare industry: In 2022, 60 million U.S. workers performed some freelance work, and 73% of survey respondents on Upwork, a leading freelance platform, said that freelancing gave them the flexibility to attend to their physical and mental health.

People are beginning to change the way they work.

Mobility is not just for travel nurses: embracing diverse work environments close to home

Another way licensed professionals use PRN shifts to help create work-life balance is by choosing where they work.

Choosing shifts by location has several advantages. First, it provides people flexibility over travel time or allows them to choose facilities based on the location of other commitments. Second, working at different facilities allows professionals to test-drive potential facilities, which is invaluable if they’re shopping around for the right full-time home.

Working at different locations can also ensure a variety of experiences, which gives licensed professionals a chance to add to their skill sets and expand their professional networks

Using PRN shifts to empower professional growth

Regardless of the environment they’re in, PRN shifts help independent professionals develop adaptability, versatility and resilience.

Adaptability refers to adjusting actions, thoughts and emotions to the situation at hand. Versatility means being able to perform various (or related) tasks. Resilience is “the ability to cope successfully despite adverse circumstances.” By cultivating these three qualities, professionals may be less likely to burn out.

Annamarie found her passion for healthcare again when she went PRN, partially because of the variety available to her, including an opportunity at a pelvic health clinic, something she never thought she would experience again.

How PRN shifts can help healthcare professionals expand their networks — and create new opportunities

If working a typical shift puts a licensed professional in contact with 10 people, working PRN shifts at 20 different facilities each month could allow them to make 2,400 unique connections every year.

Bianca Miller Cole, a business coach and bestselling author on the Forbes council, says that networking is an opportunity to exchange ideas. She also says it makes you noticeable and connects you to people who can help forward your career. These useful connections don’t necessarily need to be higher ranked.

When Linkeitha and Candice met, Linkeitha was overworked and underappreciated, and Candice was raving about her experience using ShiftKey. Linkeitha has been using the app ever since, and the two are now close friends.

“Come to find out, we live in the same neighborhood,” Candice said. ”We’ve become friends; our kids are friends. We cook together, we ride [to shifts] together, we do a lot of different things together.”

How PRN shifts enable healthcare professionals to find personal fulfillment and pursue passion projects

In healthcare, full- and part-time jobs are often inflexible, and time off needs to be requested in advance. That can limit a professional's ability to pursue a passion or find personal fulfillment.

Tessa, an independent RN and jiujitsu academy owner who works PRN shifts via the ShiftKey app, appreciates that she now has the flexibility she needs to run the academy and homeschool her youngest children.

“I get to actually do what I want to do versus being kind of chained to the system of a career. Now, I get to spend the bigger portion of my life with my family and the smaller portion in my career.”

Austin, who before going PRN was the business office manager in a long-term care center, says that ShiftKey was his first step to entrepreneurship. The flexible schedule has even given him time to build an exotic animal business on the side.

A paradigm shift: toward a new era of work

The way people work has changed since the pandemic. But some companies have begun to require in-person work again, an early signal that employer appetites for flexible work are returning to pre-pandemic levels. Even so, 87% of Americans across demographics and occupations will opt for flexible work when given the chance.

When healthcare professionals have access to flexible work, they burn out less, and addressing burnout is necessary in creating positive outcomes for patients. Giving professionals access to flexible work is also a way to help solve the nursing shortage: A McKinsey survey found that respondents ranked flexibility among the most important factors affecting their decision to stay in direct patient care.

Thanks to technology companies like ShiftKey, licensed professionals can easily create flexible schedules and receive the pay they choose.

Those looking to put more emphasis on their passions may find that working PRN offers a way to do so without leaving the healthcare industry. Those looking to spend more time with family can schedule PRN shifts around their personal needs. Those looking to advance their career may be able to return to school or start a business.

If you’re ready to give PRN shifts a try, download the ShiftKey app today. It only takes a few minutes to get started, and you can begin picking up shifts as soon as your credentials have been verified.

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