So You Want To Be An Awesome Agency Nurse

How to be good agency nurse?Nurse, agency nurse
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Nursing is a wonderful career. I have been a nurse for about 28 plus years. I always like to tell the “younger” nurses how fortunate they are to be a nurse at this time.

I was working with a nurse named Debbie in the intensive care unit (ICU). She stated she was getting tired of the facility, and she wanted to venture out and go agency.

As a nurse with plenty of experience, my ears always perk up when a hear a nurse complaining of being bored.  You see I have worked in critical care units, emergency departments, med-surg units, home health and infusion therapy.

Therefore, when I inquire further about why they want to venture out and go agency, 90% of the time it leads to more money. Hey, I don’t blame them! Everyone wants to make more money for doing the exact same work you are doing for less pay.

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What is Agency Nursing

My first job was at a long-term care rehabilitation center. Although I was grateful to have a job, it was long-term care. Therefore, I did not get that acute care experience that I longed for when I did my clinical rotations.

After two years of long-term experience, I decided to venture out into agency nursing. A nursing agency  or staffing agency is a company that provided temporary staffing to healthcare organizations. These are “temporary jobs”. The registered salary is the same; it does not matter what your years of experience are, or how much education you have.

Sometimes, a travel nurse salary is better than a local travel registered nurse salary. This is because with travel nursing, the travel agency gives you a stipend for housing. In order to be a nurse traveler, most agencies require that you have to work at least 50 miles from home.

Some advantages to agency nursing are :

  • Better pay
  • Flexibility
  • Nurses can make their own schedule
  • Nurses can work a variety of different shift, or just work one shift
  • Nurses can work in different departments which means that they can improve their skills

Disadvantages to agency nursing:

  • Unless you have a contract ( I will discuss this later), the hours are not guaranteed
  • Agency nurses complain that they get the worst assignments
  • There are no benefits
  • Agency nurses are expected to jump right into an organization with maybe 1 or 2 days orientation
  • There is an expectation that you are always flexible and independent
  • Sometimes the hospital staff can be “cold”

So You Want to be an Agency Nurse?

After I received my two years of experience, I went to a local nursing temporary agency and applied. The majority of agencies require that you have at least two years of nursing experience.

I looked in the yellow pages and looked up an agency. There are tons of agencies. However, some hospitals only work with certain agencies.  Therefore, you will have to call the agency to see what facilities they service.

The application process was quite simple. I had to submit the following documents:

  • CPR
  • ACLS card,
  • A physical exam report
  • TB test
  • A fit test
  • I had to take a test in each specialty that I wanted to work
  • I had to take a drug screening test
  • Submit a resume and two references

After you submit all of those documents, and you pass your references and drug test, you are ready to go to work.

Each facility will have orientations periods. Some of the facilities will have weekly orientation, and some will have monthly orientation.

I chose to go to a local community hospital as my first shift. I made sure that the agency I picked went to that particular hospital before I signed on.

My Experience as an Agency Nurse

My agency called the hospital that I wanted to go work at and they scheduled me for orientation. I went to an 8-hour orientation to learn about their policies and procedures and the electronic medical record.

After I finished the orientation, I was ready to start picking up some shifts. My agency called the hospital and scheduled me for one day. I was ready to start on my adventure!

I was told to report to the nursing office. I went into the office and the nursing supervisor gave me my assignment, which was a med surg unit. Likewise, I went onto the unit and spoke with the charge nurse. She gave me my assignment. Of course, I had to remind her that it was my first day and I needed a unit orientation.

So I got the report from the off going nurse and I went into to see my patients. I finally got through the 12-hour shift.

I was tired, but not from the shift. Not only that, but I think I was more tired of the different emotions that I had during the 12-hour shift. Some of these emotions were:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • The staff did not interact with me.
  • I was afraid of violating a policy or procedure.
  • I did not take a break or a lunch break because I did not want to get behind.

Agency Nurse Experiences

After that first shift, it got so much better. I started going to other hospitals with my agency. I met so many wonderful people, and the network opportunities are limitless. I resigned from my regular job.

Once I had my daughter, the agency work was very beneficial because I could make my own schedule.

However, the agency experience was not always peachy. I think sometimes the regular staff sees agency nurses as “enemies”. Therefore, as an agency nurse, you really have to become “humble”.

Tips on How to be An Awesome Agency Nurse

I was able to fit in with the regular staff by asking if they needed any help, or if they needed a break.

  • Get to know your colleagues! Talk to your fellow nurses and get to know their names!
  • Do not compare your previous hospital experience to your current agency shift.
  • If you do not know how to do a procedure, please ask.
  • Make sure you have a good reputation. Your reputation will get back to the nursing office and your agency, whether it is good or bad! Soon, you will find the hospital asking you to come back!
  • No one likes a nurse that complains or whines all the time!  Trust me, the hospital staff will not tolerate a whiny nurse.
  • As an agency nurse, you have to have good communication skills. You have to diligently document. I will be honest with you; sometimes the “agency” nurse will get the blame unfairly.
  • You have to be flexible. Often times, you will go to a hospital expecting to go to a particular unit, but they ask you to go to a different unit.
  • You have to always be professional. Sometimes the staff nurses will not be “nice” to you. You have to always keep your dignity.
  • Once you have accepted a shift, the hospital is expecting you. It is not a good idea to put your agency in the position to call the hospital to tell them you are coming to work.
  • Hospitals have something called a “DNR”. This means “do not return”! Hospitals do not hesitate to make you a DNR.

Travel Agency Nursing

Travel nursing has exploded! Travel nursing agencies require at least 2 years of experience in your selected specialty. If you are going with travel companies, you really have to do your due diligence.

Questions Travel Nurses Should ask?

  • Is my assignment guaranteed by a written contract?
  • Are my hours and pay rate guaranteed?
  • How much, and how often will I be paid?
  • Who pays me–-the facility or the agency?
  • Will I be paid via direct deposit or with a paycheck? If a check, will it be drawn on a local bank?
  • What will be deducted from my paycheck?
  • Who will pay for my move?
  • Who will pay for my housing? My utilities?
  • Which benefits will come from the agency and which from the facility?
  • Does the agency provide travel award points to its nurses? Are the points based on the number of hours worked? Do the points last for at least 2 years? Can loyal nurses use points to qualify for a travel award program that provides all-inclusive trip or vacation incentives? Sources from

Agency Nurses Pay

Although the pay is usually better than staff nursing pay, it can vary. You really have to inquire to several different agencies to find out what their compensations. For local agencies, the pay is usually a standard amount.

For travel companies, you have to ask what the gross salary is that you will be bringing home per week. You have to keep in mind that you will have to live someplace unless you have family and friends in the area.

If you have a mortgage and other responsibilities, travel nursing might not fit your needs because you still have to pay your mortgage and pay for someplace to live while on assignment. You also need to know what your local state tax laws are.


I started doing agency nursing about 25 years ago, and I have not looked back! In fact, I do believe agency nursing has allowed me to maintain my sanity when I feel burnout coming on. Are you considering agency nursing?

Just be aware that when you do go agency, you will most likely get the worst asignment.

What are your why’s? Leave me a comment!


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Phyllis Robinson MSN, RN is a Registered Nurse of 27 years. Phyllis is passionate about the prevention and healing of heart disease using traditional and alternative methods. She has experience in emergency room, telemetry, infusion, and critical care. Phyllis currently practices in an intensive care unit.

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