Career advice

Should I leave the NHS and work for an agency?

For NHS nurses in permanent jobs, the freedom of agency nursing may seem enticing, but it is important to consider the pros and cons.
pathway

For NHS nurses in permanent jobs, the freedom of agency nursing may seem enticing, but it is important to consider the pros and cons.

Agency nursing certainly offers a strong alternative to permanent employment, and many nurses choose it as a full-time career, says Hays Healthcare recruitment company director Simon Hudson. Theres the flexibility in terms of location and shift times, which can appeal to nurses with families or other commitments who need more latitude in their working hours.

A permanent post can give a nurse a sense of stability, a feeling that they belong to a team and have a direction in their career, suggests University of Derby department for healthcare practice deputy head Michelle Brown.

The great advantage of agency working is that it

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For NHS nurses in permanent jobs, the freedom of agency nursing may seem enticing, but it is important to consider the pros and cons.


Agency nursing offers flexibility, while a permanent role might
interest those looking for greater stability. Picture: iStock

‘Agency nursing certainly offers a strong alternative to permanent employment, and many nurses choose it as a full-time career,’ says Hays Healthcare recruitment company director Simon Hudson. ‘There’s the flexibility in terms of location and shift times, which can appeal to nurses with families or other commitments who need more latitude in their working hours.’

A permanent post can give a nurse a sense of stability, a feeling that they belong to a team and have a direction in their career, suggests University of Derby department for healthcare practice deputy head Michelle Brown.

The great advantage of agency working is that it can offer a wide range of experience in a number of healthcare settings, says Ms Brown. ‘If this is what you need for your future ambitions, then this may be the right choice for you.’

An eye-opener

For Karen Hood, an acute medical nurse with 20 years’ experience, dipping her toes into the world of agency nursing was an eye-opener. ‘I quickly realised it wasn’t for me, because I didn’t like not being part of a team. I also didn’t like waiting for a phone call to suddenly have to go somewhere I didn’t know. So it’s not for everyone.’

She says agency working suits ‘those with families or that have retired young, or free spirits that want to earn money and travel’.

Agency staff are perceived as earning a lot more money for hours worked than their permanent counterparts, but media stories about their high earnings don’t take into account the percentage taken by agencies. 

Working as an agency nurse can be fulfilling, but it helps if you are secure in what you have to offer, and not too thin-skinned. ‘Bear in mind that you can sometimes feel a bit like you’re being judged by the permanent staff,’ says Ms Hood.

‘There can be resentment, so you have to go in and do your absolute best, which you should anyway of course.’

What makes a good agency nurse

  • Adaptability: the nature of agency work means you may not be in the same workplace for a prolonged period. Working in different settings requires flexibility and an ability to orientate quickly to new settings, people and processes.
  • Self-management: you must keep your training up to date, avoid working excessive hours and ensure you have the skills, knowledge and experience for each job you accept. 
  • Confidence: you are performing an important role and should be valued by permanent staff. Always speak up when you do not know something.

 


Dean Gurden is a freelance health writer

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