What Is an Agency Nurse? Explanation and FAQ

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Written by Diana Campion, MSN, APRN, ANP-C Education Development Nurse, Content Writer, IntelyCare
An agency nurse consults with a full time nurse at a facility to get oriented.

The agency nurse has become a mainstay of the healthcare workforce due to the worsening nursing shortage, and projected U.S. staffing crisis. With an ever-growing presence in the healthcare environment, this type of nurse has inspired a lot of discussion and debate within the industry. So, what is an agency nurse, exactly, and why does the term evoke such strong responses from many healthcare leaders?

You’re not alone in your inquiry. Here we’ll explain what agency nursing is, the costs and benefits of using agency nurses, and other factors to consider when examining their role in your facility.

What Is an Agency Nurse? The Basics

An agency nurse is a nursing professional, such as a CNA, LPN, or RN, who works for a nursing agency to render nursing services to a healthcare facility or organization. They provide short-term workforce solutions, such as per diem or gig shifts, and longer-term solutions, including 13-week assignments or permanent staff positions, to meet the specific needs of their clients.

What Is an Agency Nurse Going to Cost?

One of the biggest concerns is the cost of hiring an agency nurse, which is markedly higher than your typical staff nurse rate. However, this hourly rate doesn’t reflect the total compensation that your facility pays staff nurses. Costly benefits and perks that your facility doesn’t provide agency nurses include the following:

  • PTO
  • state and federal payroll taxes
  • Social Security deductions
  • health, vision, and dental benefits
  • malpractice insurance
  • tuition reimbursement

While minding the bottom line is important, there is a perception that a reliance on agency nursing decreases the quality of nursing care. But is this perception a true or fair representation of agency nurses?

The Columbia University School of Nursing investigated and essentially debunked this claim. When the researchers accounted for nursing work conditions, the effect of temporary nurses on poor outcomes was less evident and likely insignificant. They were unfairly assigned a bad reputation when the probable cause of poor patient outcomes, higher mortality rates, and failure to rescue — poor working environments — was the same for high nurse turnover.

Agency nurses won’t replace the value of a permanent workforce providing daily continuity of nursing care and its positive impact on patient outcomes. Instead, they play a crucial role in closing your scheduling gaps, upholding standards, and providing the necessary nursing care to ensure patient safety when your nursing workforce is strained or understaffed.

What Is an Agency Nurse’s Benefit to Your Facility?

One major benefit of using an agency nurse is the support of an entire staffing company with multiple resources to help you meet your needs. Advantages of using a nurse employed by an agency include the following.

  • Simplified hiring process: The nursing agency recruits, interviews, hires, and verifies credentialing for a wide variety of nursing professionals for you to choose from.
  • Reduced business expenses: The nursing agency absorbs the significant costs of nurse hiring and onboarding, payroll, background checks, education or training, and credentialing.
  • Flexible scheduling options: The agency can schedule however many nursing professionals are needed to meet fluctuating scheduling needs without negatively impacting your budget or nursing team. Agency nurses enjoy the flexibility to pick the shifts that best meet their needs and work around their personal schedules.

COVID-19 reinforced the importance of having multiple staffing solutions, and the agency nurse is a reliable choice. After all, despite understaffing, uncertain work conditions, and a new era of nurse criminalization, agency nurses have repeatedly filled many vacant shifts. This has helped facilities meet patient care needs and ease the burden for many of their permanent nursing staff dealing with moral injury and burnout.

Other Factors to Consider With an Agency Nurse

The agencies that hire nursing professionals for temporary nursing services include 1099 and W2 staffing companies. While they offer similar services, they’re distinctive and it’s essential for healthcare organizations to understand these differences.

The most significant difference is that 1099 agencies hire nursing professionals as independent contractors and W2 staffing agencies hire them as employees, often offering benefits, as well as the level of training, support, and supervision that only an employer can provide. It’s important to note that 1099 nursing agencies come with the increased risk of investigations for employee misclassification, resulting in the possibility of facilities being held responsible for benefits, back pay, and overdue taxes.

In addition, many W2 staffing companies provide benefits for their nursing professionals, making their staff feel taken care of, appreciated, and valued. A nursing workforce that’s happier and valued lends to a more stable workforce, which provides better service all around to facilities and patients.

Searching for Nurse Staffing Solutions?

Now that we answered the question, What is an agency nurse? you may be looking for a staffing partner that you can depend on. Learn more about how IntelyCare provides optimal service to facilities and patients by equipping our nursing professionals with the tools and benefits to succeed and thrive in their work.