Agency nursing (also known as registry nursing) is the provision of nursing services on behalf of a staffing agency. The nurse is an employee of the agency; the agency sends the nurse out to various facilities to practice. Agency nurses can be found in all specialties of nursing. Agency nurses may work part-time or full-time. RNs, LVN/LPNs and advance practice RNs all can do agency nursing. Many nurses choose to work agency as their primary job, or as a secondary job to pick up extra income or experience.
The nursing practice of the agency nurse depends on the licensure and specialty of the nurse, as well as the specific assignment that the nurse is completing. The wise nurse will keep in mind their state's scope of nursing practice at all times. In addition, the wise nurse will make it a point to learn the policies and procedures of every facility that they are sent on assignment to.
Wherever you can find a nurse, you could find an agency nurse. Agency nurses get sent to many different types of facilities. The most common types of facilities that agency nurses get sent to are acute care, outpatient, home health and private duty.
Benefits of Agency Nursing
The main benefits of agency nursing are earning potential and flexibility. Salaries of agency nurses are often (but not always) higher than those of salaried or permanent staff. Many agencies offer same-day or next day pay, which is convenient for a nurse who needs to make quick money. Agency nurses are free to set their own schedules, though some agencies may have minimum scheduling requirements. You can work anywhere from the odd shift here and there to the equivalent of full-time hours. You can schedule yourself weeks in advance, or you can pick up shifts on short notice. You can also cancel yourself from working on short notice.
Much like per-diem nursing, agency shifts can allow a nurse to have a flexible schedule or more free time while keeping their skills and resume current. Many nurses that are raising families or going back to school look into agency nursing. Agency nursing is also a good way to break into the job market in a new location or to make yourself known to a particular facility.
Some agencies may offer benefits such as medical insurance, retirement plans, and continuing education. In addition, there is the potential for short- and long-term employment contracts to give you some stability. Some agencies offer the option for you to be hired by the facility following completion of a contract. Some agencies are part of a franchise or chain, with locations throughout the state, the region or even nationwide. This allows the nurse to transfer to various locations with minimal problems.
Keep in mind that the practices of and benefits offered by individual agencies can vary widely. Be sure to check with your agency for the specifics that will apply for you.
Downsides of Agency Nursing
The greatest downside of agency nursing is that, much like per-diem work, the hours are not guaranteed. Agency nurses are usually the first ones to be canceled by a facility, and usually, the cancellation is done only a couple of hours before the scheduled shift. Agency nurses are also the first to get sent home should the census drop. If you NEED a stable schedule or income, you should think twice about relying solely on agency nursing to provide this.
Agency nurses work without benefits or PTO unless their agency offers benefits independently. Agency nurses are not eligible to join a facility's union, as they are not facility employees. Therefore, they are not offered the benefits or protection of the union. Also, agency nurses often get the worst assignments or the work that the permanent staff doesn't want to do.
It is common for agencies to have non-compete clauses in their employment agreements, such as prohibiting you for working for another agency while in their employ. Or they may penalize you for accepting an employment offer from a facility that you're sent on assignment to, unless a certain amount of time has passed. The agency cannot stop you from earning a livelihood, but they could take you to court to enforce the terms of any employment agreement that you sign. Therefore, be sure to carefully review the employment agreement before you sign it, and consult legal counsel if necessary.
Some agencies have less than savory reputations and practices. You should investigate the credentials and reputation of any agency before signing an employment agreement.
Again, the practices and benefits of individual agencies can vary widely, so check to see how your agency does things.
Finding an Agency
To find a nursing agency, look in the Yellow Pages, job websites such as Indeed.com or LinkedIn, or through threads right here at AllNurses. However, our Terms of Service prohibit solicitation by or on behalf of an agency. You can also try searching online via Google or Bing. Suggested search terms include "nursing agency", "staffing agency" and "nurse registry".
Word of mouth is also a great way to find agencies, especially as most agencies offer referral bonuses if their agency nurses bring in new talent. In addition, word of mouth a great way to learn about the agency's reputation and whether people are happy working for them. Finally, it is not uncommon for agencies to recruit nurses, especially those who have posted their resume online at job sites.
To become a nurse in the United States, you need to graduate from a nursing program and pass the NCLEX. You can work for an agency as an RN or an LVN/LPN.
Unfortunately, agency nursing is not well suited for the new graduate nurse or a nurse looking to switch specialties. This is because agencies expect their nurses to be proficient in their area of practice. The orientations provided by both the agency and the work site are usually minimal, more of the "here is how we do things and where everything is located" than Nursing 101. Getting only a day or two of orientation is about average for the agency nurse. Therefore, almost all agencies require at least one year of nursing experience.
Some agencies, particularly home health, may be willing to take on a new graduate nurse. If you find an agency that will take you on as a new grad, be sure to inquire about the type, quality and length of orientation and training that you will receive. The reality is that you are NOT going to get the same caliber of orientation and training that you would in a hospital's new grad program. And keep in mind that should something happen while you are on assignment, YOU and not your agency will be held accountable.
Certification and Professional Organizations
There are no certifications that are specific to agency nurses. Nurses can obtain certification in their specialty area through the ANCC or other certifying agency.
As far as I know, there is no professional organization specifically for agency nurses...and if there is, please tell me about it so I can update this! Nurses are free to join whatever professional agency best suits their interests and professional practice.