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Agency insight: Caring for You

Belinda Smart | Last Updated: 18-11-2013

Agency insight: Caring for You

Set up by a registered nurse and midwife with the objective of putting its nursing staff first, Caring for You has gained some unique insights into what makes for a rewarding agency experience, writes Belinda Smart.

Once upon a time, agency nursing had something of the ring of a ‘fall back option’ about it, but according to Caring for You CEO Louise Thomson, agency nursing is increasingly seen as a preferred option, particularly among nurses new to the workplace or returning to it after a period away.

Founded by Thomson, herself a nurse who had spent many years working for agencies and wanted to set up an agency “not operated by a corporation”, Caring for You operates in both Queensland and Victoria, where, according to Thomson, opportunities for agency nurses are booming.

both of these states the demand for agency nurses is constantly rising due to: RNs leaving full time employment due to work load stress; RNs seeking non hands-on nursing roles due to litigation stress and RNs leaving full time employment due to age – with the average age of an Australian RN approaching 50.”

Other factors contributing to demand for agency nurses include Australia’s rapidly expanding aged care sector and the growth of the theatre surgery market, particularly in cosmetic surgery and specialised areas such as knee reconstructions.

And of course, as always opportunities for agency nurses are also abundant in rural, remote and specialist nursing.

“The lack of nurses is particularly felt in the rural/remote areas of Australia. In addition there is a real lack of specialist nurses such as theatre and critical care nurses, as well as midwives.”

While agency work is often seen as failing to provide the security of full time work, Thomson says this perception is increasingly outdated. These days, the leading agencies’ pay is typically “substantially better” than full time pay.

“It needs to be, in order to subsidise the nurse for the additional commitment that nursing agency work requires. Unlike a full time nurse who goes to the same place, an agency nurse needs to attend and work at various facilities, which is obviously more demanding.”

And while one of the major benefits of permanent work is that in-house training is generally well regulated, Thomson says those agencies committed to nursing do invest in comprehensive training programs to ensure their nurses keep abreast of new developments.

“For ourselves we have our own in-house trainers for regular courses. Plus we use external trainers for specialist courses, often in conjunction with and at clients’ facilities, which are very popular. We also provide a wide range of online competences for free. In addition we also subsidise our members with additional training such as Certificate IVs so they can also be trainers.”

Another upside of agency work is nurses’ freedom to choose when and where they work.

“You can care for your patients and are not involved in the day to day politics that tend to permeate most work places.”

In assessing work opportunities, nurses should always keep an eye on professional development opportunities at their potential work place, says Thomson.

“Ongoing training and professional development are extremely important for nurses and in fact are now regulated as a requirement for their ongoing registration. When looking at all nursing positions, whether agency or permanent, nurses need to look past the claims on websites that ‘we train’, to really investigate at the interview what is being provided. If of course the agency only wishes to employ over the phone or internet, then alarm bells should start to ring that they are not really committed to the quality or development of their personnel.”

Agencies are increasingly dealing with the specific demands of agency nursing with a certain level of creativity, Thomson says. Over the years Caring for You itself has piloted a unique service for nurses, whereby it offers a ‘buddy shift’ program to assist nurses who are either new to a role or have been absent from it for some time and need to regain confidence.

“For example a new role which is quite common is that of an EN who has completed their endorsement and has the theoretical knowledge, but often lacks to the real life working knowledge of being an EEN in a busy facility. In these circumstances we run them in buddy shifts with one of our experienced EENs or RNs so they gain their hands-on confidence, an approach that has proved extremely popular.”

Provided nurses are discerning about the quality of agency they choose to work with, agency work can provide a valuable contribution to nurses’ career paths.

“Working for an agency provides a wonderful opportunity to experience a wide range of facilities and roles within a short period of time, in which the nurse can gain a valuable insight in to how different facilities run or how different senior nurse approach different professional situations. In looking at a career move, whilst still permanently employed, a nurse can work with an agency in an area of nursing or facility that they think they may wish to move to, without leaving their full time position.

Agency nursing with a reputable agency should offer a good balance between variety and stability, Thomson says.

“Most nurses do not realise that after a while agency work tends to be repeat work at the same set of facilities. It is true at the start that a nurse will go to various facilities, however as time goes on both the facilities and the nurses have their favourites and the work becomes very settled, while still enjoying an element of change.”

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