What Is an Agency Nurse? Explanation and FAQ

Image of content creator for bio page
Written by Diana Campion, MSN, APRN, ANP-C Education Development Nurse, Content Writer, IntelyCare
Image of content creator
Reviewed by Danielle Roques, BSN, RN 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. As their presence in facilities continues to expand, utilizing this type of nurse has inspired a lot of discussion and debate within the healthcare industry. What is an agency nurse and why does the term evoke such strong responses from many healthcare leaders?

Here, we’ll explain what agency nursing is, outline the risks and benefits of using agency nurses, and review other key factors to consider when hiring agency nurses for your facility.

What Is an Agency Nurse? The Basics

An agency nurse is a nursing professional, such as a CNA, LPN, or RN, who contracts with a nursing agency to provide clinical care services for a healthcare facility or organization. They offer clients short-term workforce solutions like per diem or gig shifts, as well as longer-term solutions like 13-week assignments or permanent staff positions, to meet their specific needs.

What Is an Agency Nurse Going to Cost?

Healthcare facilities are often concerned about the costs involved when hiring an agency nurse, which are markedly higher than those of a typical staff nurse. However, it’s important to remember that a staff nurse’s hourly rate doesn’t reflect the total amount your facility pays them to work. Most companies also provide staff nurses with costly benefits and perks that they don’t provide to agency nurses, including:

  • Paid time off
  • Health, vision, and dental benefits
  • Malpractice insurance
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • State and federal payroll taxes
  • Social Security deductions

While minding the bottom line is important, there is a perception that a reliance on agency nursing decreases the quality of nursing care. Many may wonder — 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 having the support and resources of an entire staffing company to help you meet your needs. Here are some additional advantages to using an agency-hired nurse.

Benefits of Using an Agency Nurse
Simplified Hiring Process A nursing agency recruits, interviews, hires, and verifies credentialing for a wide variety of nursing professionals, saving you time and effort.
Reduced Business Expenses A nursing agency absorbs the significant costs of nurse hiring and onboarding, payroll, background checks, education or training, and credentialing, giving you more money in your budget to focus on care improvement initiatives.
Flexible Scheduling Options An agency can schedule the necessary number of nursing professionals needed for each shift and cancel any unnecessary staff. That means you’re only paying to use the nurses that you need. Many agency nurses enjoy the flexibility to pick the shifts that best meet their needs and work around their personal schedules.

Post-pandemic staffing crises reinforced the importance of having multiple staffing solutions, and using agency nurses has proven to be a reliable choice. They’re able to help facilities meet safe staffing ratios and fill last-minute staffing shortages, ensuring that patients receive the best care possible.

It’s important to note that using agency nurses is as helpful for clinicians as it is for patients. Incorporating agency nurses into the staffing matrix eases the burden for permanent nursing staff dealing with moral injury and burnout, allowing them time to rest and recover so they can continue providing high-quality care.

What Are the Differences Between 1099 and W2 Nurses?

The agencies that hire nursing professionals for temporary nursing services include 1099 and W2 staffing companies. While they offer similar services, there are distinctive differences in the way these workers are managed. Understanding these differences is essential to avoiding legal complications and hefty fines.

The most significant difference is that 1099 agencies hire nursing professionals as independent contractors and W2 staffing agencies hire them as employees. When staff are hired on as employees, they’re often offered access to company benefits, as well as the job training, support, and supervision that 1099 agencies aren’t able to provide. A nursing team that feels happier and more valued can contribute to a more stable and engaged workforce.

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. Take these risks into consideration when deciding which type of temporary staffing solution to avoid any complications.

Looking for a Creative Nurse Staffing Solution?

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 staffing solutions to facilities with nursing professionals who are trained, supervised, and dedicated to delivering quality care.

Reach & recruit the
highest quality nursing professionals

Get in touch with us