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MAR 17/2013

Starting your career as an agency nurse

We've received a number of questions from student nurses asking about how and when they can begin their work as a temporary nurse. So we asked former nurse, and Medacs Healthcare business development manager, Suzanne Pollard, for her advice. 

The benefits of getting extra experience

If you're about to start your nursing career, it is really important that you gain as much experience as possible, check out  examples of good practice in other trusts and hospitals and incorporate them into your working practices. As a student or newly qualified nurse, you are limited to accepting healthcare support worker shifts but this can still provide you with invaluable experience, it can broaden your clinical horizons, introduce you to new areas of practice and provide a welcome additional source of income, whilst you study and complete your preceptorship.

As a former Theatre Manager and Lead Nurse myself, I would always favour employing newly qualified nurses who have additional temporary nursing experience in other trusts and hospitals, as this shows you are keen to broaden your knowledge base, are flexible and willing to do additional shifts when required.

Start at the right time

That said, no responsible nursing agency should be offering you qualified temporary nursing shifts until you have completed at least six months in an acute, primary care or community setting. Remember it's your PIN number and you have worked hard to get it; look after it and don’t put yourself at risk before you have even started.

Checklist: five items to consider when choosing a nursing agency

If you decide to work through a nursing agency or local staff bank, you may want to think about the following:

  1. Working through your own trust or hospital bank is a good option for many people and has the convenience and comfort of working in a place you know well, although it can restrict your experience to that particular trust / hospital. People who want to gain a wider range of experience may prefer working their additional hours through a nursing agency. An agency can provide a wide variety of experiences across many clients, both NHS and the private and third sector.
  2. If choosing a nursing agency, choose one that provides nursing support 24 hours a day. After all you may want to work a 24 hour shift rotation and you should expect professional support throughout your entire shift pattern, whatever the time of day or night.
  3. Ask to speak to one of the agency's nurse advisors. Ask if they can offer you independent career advice and appraisals.
  4. It’s ok to ask nursing agencies where the work will be and how much you can expect to be paid - and how often! Will you be paid holiday pay? Will there be any deductions?
  5. Ask about costs- it is usual for some costs to be passed onto the candidate and these can vary greatly so make sure you ask about all charges up front

Once you decide to do some temporary agency shifts, check out the range of nursing roles that are available to you.

Next: Your guide to building a professional CV for a nursing career

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