If you’re an experienced NHS nurse then you’ll be familiar with the scramble to cover staffing gaps with qualified nurses when your colleagues are unexpectedly sick, and the challenges of maintaining round the clock care.
You’re probably used to seeing nurses fill those gaps and if you’ve toyed with the idea of making the move to becoming an agency nurse - but just aren’t sure if it is right for you - then follow our guide below to reveal more about the pros and cons of joining a nursing agency.
Why has agency nursing become so necessary?
Most hospitals now consider agency nurse job roles to be a vital resource due to the number of unfilled nursing posts across the UK, the impact of Brexit and the lack of bursaries. Our rapidly aging population unfortunately only exacerbates the issue even further.
Why do nurses become agency nurses?
The main reason is fairly obvious - the pay is much better and the hours are shorter - but they aren’t the only considerations.
Increasing your work opportunities
Most nurses are rightly loyal to the NHS and agency nursing can often seem like going against the grain.
No-one goes into nursing for the money, but there may come a time in your career where you’ve started to really struggle or burn out – both financially, physically and maybe even mentally. Agency nursing (and the assocaited higher nurse pay rates) for many may be the only option to continue with a rewarding nursing career that gives you the lifestyle that you want or need - without some of the pressures associated with NHS nursing.
There are few jobs still in the market place where you can really control your life and choose the hours and locations that you’d really like to work - which is why being an agency nurse is so popular.
Whether you want to spend more time with your family or other personal commitments, or just want to work less or increase your income, then you’ll have the choice to accept the work that suits your priorities.
And you can finally avoid the nightshifts! Or pick them deliberately if you want to earn more.
The downside - If you like a modicum of stability you may find that working different shifts in a multitude of environments may be too challenging. If you’re not a highly adaptable person you may struggle, especially if it comes to varying sleep patterns due to the shifts you are working on and you may even have to occasionally sleep in a hotel or dorm bed instead of your own!
Is there enough available nursing work?
Generally yes. There are a huge amount of nurse jobs but obviously it depends on exactly what you are looking for, and when, plus what experience you have. It may be worth having a chat with an agency to find out what is generally on offer in your area first but work is dependent on other nurses calling in sick so can be variable.
The downside - If you’re not particularly flexible and/or there isn’t work available – unfortunately you won’t be paid whilst you’re not working.
Greater Nursing Pay Rates
Agency nurses typically receive higher rates of pay than permanent NHS nurses. The theory being that this is compensation for short notice assignments and the potential that those assignments may be cancelled at short notice. The economics of supply and demand are obviously a key factor too and it is sadly a fact that many hospitals are just not able to plan for events such as staff sickness in the most effective way.
To give an idea of what you can expect as an agency nurse in comparison these are some of the recent nurse pay rates paid by Mayday for different locations, by day of the week, time of the day, seniority and specialisation alongside the NHS hourly nurse pay rates. You can explore our Salary Hub for up to date nurse pay rates HERE.
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If you’d like to see the latest LIVE market salary news (as bang up to date as it can be) - then click on the link below to see the latest Agency Nurse Salary Data and Statistics from Adzuna (a global job aggregator website) which indicates that the average agency nurse salary was £44,242 at the time of writing.
The alternative to working with an agency is to set up your own limited company – for many this is an unwanted additional stress and complication which is why so many choose the agency route.
If you prefer the stability, security and benefits that a permanent role and guaranteed income provides then working in an ever changing environment may not be the best option for you.
The downside - You need to be comfortable with being paid weekly and working on a shift basis and you’ll also need to check whether your agency offers any benefits such as medical insurance or pensions and keep on top of your receipts and overall tax affairs (especially if your agency doesn’t withhold money to pay your income taxes). On the upside you’ll be able to receive tax deductions for a variety of items associated with your job such as travel.
You’ll need experience
Agency nursing is more suitable for experienced nurses rather than those who are newly qualified. You’ll be expected to hit the ground running, be able to adapt quickly to change in a variety of circumstances and provide a high standard of knowledge and support. You’ll need to solve problems and provide accurate answers quickly on any number of new and often highly critical situations whilst keeping patient care at the forefront of your mind at all times.
To be one of the best agency nurses you will have to be incredibly professional at all times and love what you do – it takes a certain type of nurse to be able to tick all of these boxes!
The downside – There is little time for training due to the nature of shift work and training may not be as comprehensive as that received from the NHS.
Advance your career
Agency nurses who are already well trained have a huge advantage when it comes to advancing their career because of the experience and clinical skills to be gained from working in a wide variety of departments and situations.
You’ll have the opportunity to work across a wide range of services, not just hospitals, which can really open up future career development opportunities and you’ll likely become an even more confident, capable and professional nurse.
Ditch the politics and improve patient care
You’ll only be in one location for a short time so you’ll have the opportunity to remove yourself from ward or department politics at last - which to some is a great advantage. You’ll certainly never be bored with the same four walls again and you can finally devote yourself to improving patient care without petty distractions.
You will still need to be highly involved in the team however, have excellent communication skills, attention to detail and fit perfectly whilst being equally capable of working alone and ensuring that a first class service is available to patients at all times. Even from the first minute you arrive!
Nb. Make it a priority to learn your new colleagues names straight away so you gain their respect and fit in faster and ensure that you communicate at all times – especially if you’re running late!
The downside - If you’re not particularly thick skinned you may find the challenge of being accepted by permanent staff hard to handle - especially if they bear a grudge against agency nurses who earn more. You may find that you don’t always get the initial support that you feel you need such as how particular systems work or understanding particular patient needs. You’ll need to get your new colleagues on side straight away so try to stay positive and let them know what you genuinely love about their ward, team and their support.
Calm, Caring yet strong!
You could be working in different wards or situations every week and need the ability to establish instant rapport and display empathy with patients, their families and staff whilst remaining calm under stressful and pressurised situations. Did we mention the fact that you’ll need huge reserves of mental and physical stamina to keep you going on the longer shifts too?
Do you think Agency Nursing is for you?
It’s not for the faint hearted but if you’re experienced, have a great personality and can cope in all circumstances then it could be worth registering with one of the best nursing agencies.
How to register as an agency nurse
Registering is in many ways similar to applying for any new job in that you’ll need an up to date CV and references, and then if suitable, you’ll have an interview.
Nursing agency work also requires
- Your NMC PIN
- An in date DBS
- And proof of relevant up to date vaccinations including MMR, Chickenpox, TB, Hep B
You can find guidance on these requirements here.