One of the most frequently asked questions we encounter is if agency nursing is the right career path or not. Regardless of whether you’re planning to move to a more flexible nursing schedule or pick up additional shifts through an agency, there are many things you need to think about.
Can you work in unfamiliar settings and face the fear of the unknown? Do you prefer stability and routine or thrive in challenging and different nursing environments?
While some nurses relish the unpredictability of agency nursing, others crave the stability of a familiar workplace. Moreover, there are nurses who enjoy both, seamlessly juggling a full-time nursing job with the added responsibility of a second job as an agency nurse, or even opting for a career as an agency nurse.
The benefits of agency nursing are numerous, but it’s not right for everyone. Like all life experiences, there are always challenges, advantages and disadvantages. So, is agency nursing right for you? Read on to explore agency nursing and see if it is the right fit for you.
What is Agency Nursing?
We also know agency nursing as casual nursing, on-demand nursing or contingent nursing. Nursing agencies are service providers which provide nurses to hospitals, nursing homes, aged care centres and other providers of care to help assist them during busy periods and fill staffing shortages.
Hospitals and healthcare facilities have their own permanent full-time, part-time and casual staff. Agency nurses fill the staffing shortages when the existing supply is exhausted.
Typically, agency nurses are employees of a nursing recruitment agency – hence the term ‘agency nurses’ – but agency nurses can also have an independent contract issued to work at a hospital or facility, so the hospital, rather than the agency, is the employer of record.
6 Pros and Cons of Agency Nursing
Pros of Agency Nursing
- Higher pay compared to traditional nursing
- Control and flexibility over your working schedule
- Ability to manage work-life balance
- No involvement in workplace politics
- Focus on patient care rather than other additional work
- Provides an opportunity to diversify skills and gain confidence in unique skills and nursing specialities
Cons of agency nursing
- No entitlements to sick leave, long-service leave, etc
- Income isn’t guaranteed and you may have to work extra hours to make up the unexpected shift cancellations
- Working in unfamiliar places can create a lack of support system, and after a few amazing experiences, the expectation may be set that its like this every time
- You might face too many “first days jitters” and “fear of the unknown”
- Difficulty in building relationships with patients and coworkers
- If you tend to take longer-term contracts over casual shifts, you might be away from friends and family during contracts
What qualities make you a successful agency nurse?
Agency nursing offers a different experience compared to hospital-based nursing. Working in different hospitals, with different teams and people is a whole new experience altogether. As a nurse, you will most likely be working with patients who are of different ages and backgrounds than you. This means that it’s important to understand not only their medical conditions and needs but also their personal lives. Although it may seem like a difficult task, you’ll be able to understand your patients’ experiences better as time goes on—and that can make all the difference in the world. Your communication skills are vital – you will be taking calls from people who don’t know you, but who might need help or advice. And that can mean dealing with difficult and stressful situations at times. You’ll need to stay calm, keep your cool and provide top-notch service.
Senior leadership will expect your ability to communicate well — and you should be able to speak up confidently in stressful situations. Agency nurses must be compassionate and strong-willed enough to make a lasting impression on every patient and every manager they encounter.
Here are just a few qualities an agency nurse must have:
- Team player
- Excellent communication
- Willingness to go the extra mile
If you are a person who thrives in challenging situations and can hit the ground running with minimal supervision, agency nursing is a great fit for you. You may face an environment riddled with uncertainty. This can sometimes feel threatening and may cause hesitation about moving into an agency position. This is normal — but it’s also something that can be managed. Conquering your fear about trying something new can be healthy – which is why nailing agency nursing may do wonders for your personal growth!
If you are on the fence about trying agency nursing, we urge you to give it a try.
Qualifications needed to become an agency nurse
Enrolled Nurses, Registered Nurses and Registered Midwives
To work as an agency nurse, you need to have a minimum of 1000 hours of paid experience gained in Australian acute care, and clinical environment over the past 12 months.
If you are not an Australian citizen or PR holder, you also need to have:
- Nursing degree gained at an overseas university
- AHPRA registration
- Full unrestricted work rights
Assistant in Nursing
You must have completed 120 hours of work placement and qualification in Cert III.
What experience and skills are in demand for on-demand nursing?
The best speciality for an agency nurse is the one with high demand and high pay. At the start of 2024, the most in-demand nurses for agency work are those with ICU, CCU, Midwifery, Operating Theatre (scrub, scout and anaesthetics), and ED experience. A high demand translates to more jobs and more locations to choose from. And these factors typically make it easier to find a job in a place where you live / want to live.
Nevertheless, all nursing specialities play an important role in supporting the community. Societal factors play an important role in creating trends; for example, Australia’s ageing population implies more demand for aged care nursing, and we’ll continue to see this increase in demand over the course of the next decade.
Mental health nursing is a sector likely to suffer from staffing shortages and we’re already seeing increasing demand from facilities for nurses with experience in this specialty. The prevalence of mental health issues, COVID-19 lockdowns and the stigma around mental health issues make this field rewarding and fulfilling.
By the very nature of specialities like ICU, CCN, Paediatrics, Neonatal and Midwifery, these specialities are always in demand.
Here are a few nursing specialities you can pursue as an agency nurse whether you are a new grad or looking to find your niche.
- ICU – Intensive Care Unit
- CCN – Critical Care Nursing
- Theatre Scrub
- Theatre Scout
- Theatre Recovery
- Midwifery /Obstetrical and Gynaecological nurses
- Mental health
- Geriatric/Aged care nursing
- Acute care nursing
- Community health nursing
- Emergency Room
This list is not exhaustive and there are many more specialisations we haven’t covered. If you are trying to pick your speciality, think of your personality traits – personal values, interests, strengths and weaknesses.
- Do you love kids? Paediatrics might be a great choice for you…
- Do you thrive under pressure? CCU, ICU or Emergency Nursing can be a great fit
- Do you want to break the stigma around mental health? Mental health nursing is a no-brainer
- What’s your preferred age group? Babies, children, adults or geriatrics?
- What’s your work style – do you prefer working alone or with a team? Surgery and community health nursing require working in teams while nurses in ICU can often spend hours by themselves especially when they are on night shifts.
- Do you seek Monday to Friday work? Working in a Theatre in a private hospital is less likely to demand weekend and evening shifts.
What type of work do agency nurses do?
You may receive a brief from the agency and work on different things like
- Becoming familiar with the hospital procedures and staff
- Observing patients’ vitals, administering medical treatment and monitoring their reactions to the treatment
- Providing patient care – changing medications and basic nursing care like bathing or feeding
- Assisting and communicating patients’ progress with physicians and surgeons
- Communicating with patients and their families
- Performing administrative tasks like updating patient records, coordinating discharge plans and arranging for patient care needs
Documents required to apply for agency nursing:
So if you have decided to try out agency nursing, here are the documents you will need to apply for your agency nursing role. Every agency will have its own process and may ask you for additional information depending on the role you are applying for.
Required documentation for uPaged nurses:
- AHPRA Registration Number
- Evidence of Year Level. For recently graduated or student practitioners, evidence of your studies is accepted.
- Resume, including months and years of employment
- Personal Details and Emergency Contact details
- National Police Check
- 2 references from a manager, educator or supervisor (you’ll need their work email address). For recently graduated or student practitioners, a placement report is accepted.
You will also need to provide additional documentation, including:
- Working with Children Check (WWCC) clearance
- Statements of Service to confirm year level and hours worked (this is so we can may sure you get paid correctly)
- Vaccination record/certificates*** for the following:
- Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis
- Measles, Mumps and Rubella
- Varicella (chickenpox)
- Hepatitis B
- Tuberculosis (TB)
- Influenza (annual)
- Covid 19 vaccinations as per your State or Territory regulations
- Mandatory Competencies
- Basic Life Support (Annual)
- Fire & Evacuation (Annual)
- Manual Handling (Annual)
- Drug Calculations Maths Test (Annual)
- IV Medication Administration (Annual)
- Hand Hygiene (Every 5 years)
- Infection Control (Every 5 years)
- Aseptic Technique (Every 5 years)
Is casual employment the right choice for you?
Casual employment is a great way to have flexibility in your working hours and to supplement your income. You choose when you want to work and there is no requirement to work a full week or month. This may allow you to hold another job alongside your shift work, as it requires more flexibility.
Find out how much you can earn as an agency nurse by using this calculator – Nurse Pay Calculator
Agency nursing isn’t for everyone. It is a matter of preference and where you are in your life journey. Agency nursing is empowering and hands the control back where it belongs… in your hands. There are various reasons why nurses choose agency nursing. For instance, you could be a full-time mum seeking a way to work around family life by joining an agency. Alternatively, you may be eager to learn new skills from more experienced nurses in a different healthcare setting to fulfil your career aspirations. You may want to earn extra income and maintain your skills and experience while on maternity leave. The diversity of work in on-demand nursing can be exhilarating, and some nurses even choose it as a long-term career option.
If you are looking to join an agency, uPaged is a great option. We are here to help you to find the very best nursing role to suit your career aspirations. You can claim your profile by signing up here or get in touch with Steph, our Nurse Onboarding Specialist on 0480 028 835.