1) Do 'most' per diem jobs REALLy have flex schedules in that YOU tell THEM when you are available....or do they expect you to be available all the time?
It sort of depends on your hospital. We are a union contract and Per diems are hired as part of the staff, not under a time-frame contract. I think the way they are scheduled varies from unit to unit. In my unit, I usually schedule my shifts AFTER all the regular and parttimers are plugged in, and AFTER crossing off the days I am not available to them. For example, on the one day of the week my DH is home, I do work--EVER. That doesn't stop them from calling, but I have learned to just say no.
4) What do you do for insurance if you have none otherwise? I have heard there are some who pay for their families insurance all by themselves...like blue cross etc....does anyone have any costs they'd like to share for a family... or any words of wisdom?
Per diems at my hospital do not get bennies of any kind, not even jury duty pay. So no insurance, vacation or sick leave pay. But we also do not have to submit a vacation request and hope it gets blessed. I just don't schedule myself when I want to be gone.
Per diem works great for me because I don't have to work fulltime, I am not the primary wage-earner, and I love the flexibility of being able to take off blocks of time off when it suits me. We travel a lot, and if I had a position, I couldn't do that. The flip side is that sometimes I don't get a paycheck, at all. For us, it works. It might not for others.
5) When signed on for a particular unit (not the 'pool') do you find as per diem that you get floated/called to other units anyway?
Occasionally they will try to float us, but I work in a specialized unit (Labor and Delivery) and honestly, I'm not qualified to work as an RN on the med-surg unit with surgeries, medications, procedures, and treatments, not to mention the docs, that weren't even invented when I last did Med-Surg in nursing school 30 years ago. They'll try to give you an RN assigment, but I will stand firm on doing aide-type of care because legally, it's not safe for the patients, me or the institution.
I hope this is helpful.