5 Pros and Cons of Working for a Nursing Agency To Help You Decide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published September 15, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Nursing professionals have many employment options. Nursing agencies help health care workers find short-term contracts to work in a variety of settings. Learning about this employment option can aid you in your job search and help you determine where to apply. In this article, we explain what an agency nurse is, compare them to staff nurses and list the five pros and cons of working for a nursing agency.

What is an agency nurse?

An agency nurse is a health care professional who works for a nursing agency that assigns them to health care facilities for temporary contracts. While their job duties can change depending on the location in which they're working, they typically provide medical treatment to patients. For example, an agency nurse may receive an assignment to work in hospice care for a month and provide care for a patient at home. Often, agency nurses cover shifts at hospitals when staff members are on leave.

Related: How To Become a Travel Nurse

Agency nurse vs. staff nurse

While agency nurses and staff nurses may perform many of the same duties and require the same education and training, there are several key differences between the two, including:

Salary

While staff nurses earn an annual salary, agency nurses usually earn hourly wages. In addition to a salary, staff nurses often receive a benefits package that includes paid time off, health insurance and a retirement plan. In contrast, agency nurses rarely receive benefits packages.

Work environment

Agency and staff nurses can work in a variety of health care facilities, such as hospitals, nursing homes, patients' homes, family practices and specialty facilities. However, agency nurses travel for work, so they may work at several locations for a short amount of time. In comparison, staff nurses consistently work at one location.

Related: Best Places to Work for Nurses

Specialty

Staff nurses may specialize in one type of care or area of health, such as emergency medicine or pediatrics. In contrast, an agency nurse may have experience in several specialties. Since the role of an agency nurse is to help health care providers solve staffing issues, they rarely specialize and instead help where they're needed. This can give agency nurses more varied experiences than staff nurses.

Schedule

Staff nurses receive a schedule each week with a set amount of hours. Nursing management often determines schedules. In comparison, agency nurses can set their own schedules and work the number of hours they desire. While staff nurses can expect a routine schedule, agency nurses may have more flexible work schedules.

5 pros and cons of working for a nursing agency

Here are five key pros and cons of working for a nursing agency:

1. Compensation and benefits

Nursing agencies can negotiate higher wages for their staff when they work in various locations. Typically, agency nurses earn more than traditional nurses. They may earn an average of $102,465 per year, while staff nurses may earn closer to $80,159 per year. However, agency nurses rarely receive benefits, such as health insurance or a retirement plan. Instead, they can purchase private insurance and may be eligible for government aid.

2. Routine

When you work for a nursing agency, you may have a flexible schedule and be able to choose when and how much you work. Depending on the types of work environments you prefer, a nursing agency can find you a job placement and negotiate a short-term contract. You may frequently travel to new locations and work in many types of health facilities. For example, working for a nursing agency, you may have opportunities to work in hospitals, nursing homes or home health care.

A flexible schedule may help you maintain a positive work-life balance and allow you to prioritize your personal life. You also have the opportunity to work more hours if you desire. However, if you prefer a routine with predictable hours in a consistent location with similar job tasks each day, you may prefer staff nursing to agency nursing.

Related: FAQ: What Is a Typical Nurse Schedule

3. Relationships

Nursing agencies learn about your strengths, preferences and experience, which helps them to find positions that suit you and work environments where you can succeed. This support can help you build a valuable relationship with your nursing agency. It may assist you in developing professionally and answer questions you may have about your career.

A disadvantage of being an agency nurse is that you may not have as much opportunity to become part of a team and form meaningful relationships with your coworkers. However, a nursing agency can help you find positions where you can collaborate with staff nurses effectively. While you may not spend a long time in one work environment, you may have the opportunity to meet many other professionals while working as an agency nurse.

Related: 10 Types of Workplace Relationships and How To Improve Them

4. Experience

When working for an agency, you can switch locations and work with different types of patients frequently. This can help you develop a diverse skill set and gain experience in a variety of health care environments. Accruing a wide range of experiences and training may also increase your professional opportunities and identify which health care environment you prefer.

As an agency nurse, you may have the opportunity to gain experience in emergency medicine, chronic illness, physical therapy and hospice care. If your career plan involves becoming a senior-level nurse, opportunities like this can help meet the experiential requirements of specialized nursing positions. However, if you enjoy working with the same types of patients consistently, you may prefer being a staff nurse.

5. Focus of the position

Job responsibilities for agency nurses often involve patient care and supporting other nurses. In comparison, the nursing staff at a health care facility may perform additional tasks, such as managing schedules or meeting with doctors. If you're interested in focusing on patient care, agency nursing may be the right career for you. However, if you prefer working with doctors and other medical professionals as well as patients, staff nursing might align better with your interests.

Since agency nurses focus on patient care, they may spend an extended amount of time with each patient, enabling them to form relationships and provide comfort. They may also help health care facilities solve staffing issues, which can ensure patients receive higher quality care. This can have a positive effect on a patient's recovery and provide agency nurses with job satisfaction.

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