Casual Nursing Offers Career Options for Nurses Seeking Flexibility, Career Control and Choice. Why do Australian nurses opt to switch to agency nursing, casual pool, on-demand or casual nursing shifts? And what type of nurses are best suited to working this way?
In the spirit of true transparency, uPaged is not a nursing agency like the traditional nursing agencies that abound in Australia for nurses seeking flexible work. uPaged is actually a health-tech platform built by a nurse, specifically for nurses and hospitals. What we do is enable nurses and hospitals to connect directly - cutting out the agency middleman. uPaged nurses are like a private casual nursing pool for hospitals, but better (read on to find out why!) And even though we’re health-tech, we are people-focused and have a full team behind the scenes working with our nurses and hospitals to make the magic happen.
Most of the casual, on-demand nurses who get casual hospital nursing shifts through uPaged used to think of themselves as an agency nurse before they joined the uPaged crew, so we feel comfortable discussing what type of nurses are best suited to casual agency nursing, and why nurses in Australia switch to agency nursing and casual pool nursing shifts. To back us up, we’ve drawn on data and commentary gathered from our survey of over 500 agency nurses from our survey of 18 months ago, and issues they revealed that we discuss in this article.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, exactly what is agency nursing, casual pool and just who is best suited to these types of roles?
Agency Nursing and Casual Pool
No - agency nursing and casual pool are not the same thing and it’s easy to confuse them. Each option has its own pro’s and con’s as a career path for nurses, depending on what nurses are looking for.
Nursing agencies typically employ registered nurses (RNs) and Endorsed Enrolled Nurses (EENs), as well as Enrolled Nurses (ENs), Assistants in Nursing (AINs) and Home Carers to work in hospitals, aged care facilities, private homes and other facilities. Nurses who work for agencies provide care for the unwell, aged and infirm.
Agency nurses are employees of the agency and are paid by the agency. While the range of work on offer can be broad, there are a number of factors to consider when joining a nursing agency. For example:
The opportunity to transition to full-time work in a facility that an agency nurse works at is, at worst, impossible, and at best, extremely limited. The reason for this is because if that hospital was to employ an agency nurse for a full-time, part-time, or casual pool job, the agency will typically collect a placement fee, exactly the same as any recruitment agent does when placing someone in a new role. These fees can be in excess of $10,000, making it prohibitively expensive for the hospital to offer a role to the nurse in the first place.
Agency nurses often complain of being called at very short notice for a shift (ie: less than a couple of hours), and feeling pressured to accept the shift, even when they might otherwise have plans. One agency nurse we spoke to described her experience of declining a shift that was met with a ‘veiled threat’ that she wouldn’t be offered another shift if she declined, which she found incredibly stressful given that she relied on her agency work for income and had to pay off some debts.
Many agency nurses who responded to our survey also complained of being cancelled at the last minute, showing very little consideration for the fact that the nurse would have made herself unavailable for nursing shifts elsewhere and might have been relying on the income for the shift, leaving them out of pocket.
Others complained of late changes to the hours or the location of the shift. One agency nurse explained: “My shift was moved from a hospital on one side of Sydney to another, and I just couldn’t say no to the shift because when I have declined in the past, my shifts have dried up. On this occasion, a late change of hospital meant I had to drive another 45 minutes to work, throwing family life and childcare arrangements into disarray, not to mention the additional hour I lost in travel.”
Casual pool nurses can be RNs, EENs, ENs or AINs, and are employed by a hospital but are not usually assigned to a specific ward. What this means is that they are allocated to work in wards with the greatest need at the time, and they typically have no guaranteed number of hours in a week.
Casual pool nurses can usually either nominate their availability, which impacts the shifts they will get offered or select available shifts from a list. Casual pool nurses will often work across several areas of a hospital, and may not know which they are to work in until they arrive at work.
Most hospitals will have a casual pool of nurses to plug the gaps that occur due to changing patient numbers or leave requirements (such as sick leave, holiday leave, maternity or parental leave) for full- or part-time nursing staff.
Some casual pool (and agency) nurses we interviewed in our survey told us they felt very anonymous on wards where they were unknown by other staff who were very protective of their patients. This is because permanent staff don’t have prior knowledge of the broad range of experience and skills that the casual nurse has. Our survey found numerous reports of the regular nurses rolling their eyes disrespectfully and saying, “oh great, we have an agency nurse on” or referring to them without a name but instead “hey, agency nurse”
The uPaged Option
uPaged is Australia’s first and only alternate option to agency and casual pool nursing. It is like a private casual pool for hospitals, and it’s disrupting the way that registered nurses get casual shifts in top Australian hospitals.
Think TripAdvisor meets Uber in a mash-up with the traditional nursing agency model.
Nurses are in control. They choose the work they want, where they want, and the shift with the rate they want, all via our uPaged App. Nurses can also set their availability and preferences, so they are the first to be invited to the shifts they want.
Founded by an RN to eliminate all the issues that nurses typically encounter by working with traditional nursing agencies, uPaged cuts out the agency middleman, allows nurses to connect directly to hospitals for available shifts (and vice versa); and provides a platform for nurses to showcase their skills and experience in their professional profile – their resume for life.
A two-way marketplace, with a two-rating system, at the end of a nursing shift, uPaged nurses rate the hospital, and the hospital rates the nurse, and the greater ratings a nurse gets, the more in demand they are. The result? Better outcomes for nurses, hospitals and patients.
Hospitals think of uPaged nurses as their own private casual nursing pool. Best of all, our experience is that uPaged nurses get booked more often and cancelled last, because we don’t charge hospitals the high fees that traditional nursing agencies do.
uPaged (and our hospitals) fully support the transition of nurses to full-time work (if that’s what a nurse is looking for), so nurses can try out a bunch of different workplaces and find the one that is the best fit for them. As a uPaged nurse, we don’t employ nurses directly - uPaged nurses are employed by the hospital they work at, by way of a casual contract. uPaged nurses can work at any number of different hospitals that they choose to work at.
uPaged also counteracts the issue of anonymity and a wards lack of knowledge about a uPaged nurse. When a uPaged nurse is booked for a shift, the hospital is provided with a comprehensive brief of the uPaged nurse’s skills and experience as a downloadable document. This is then supplied to the booking manager and to the charge nurse for that shift, so that appropriate patient allocations can be made and so that uPaged nurses work with patients perfectly matched to their skills and experience. This is great for both the uPaged nurse, the patients they get allocated, and the ward they are working on at that time.
So, if you’re in the market for a new nursing role, getting work via uPaged might just be the perfect way for you to check out other hospitals you might like to work at before making a commitment - a bit like trying before you’re buying.
What Makes a Great Agency or uPaged Nurse in a Hospital?
Agency nursing is a great option for registered nurses who have more than one year of clinical* hospital experience.
In particular, agency or on-demand nursing is great for nurses who like:
Learning new things
Gaining new skills by being shown different ways of doing things
Enjoy new challenges
Change - of work, of location, of facility and/or of team
Choice - location, shifts, departments
Variety of work - perhaps even taking shifts outside of their specialisation
Meeting new people, or
Those who want to top up the full-time wage with an extra casual shift or two.
Agency or uPaged nursing can also be a fantastic opportunity for nurses who are keen to ‘try before they buy’ when it comes to getting work experience in another hospital that they may not have worked in before.
uPaged Nurses Explain Why They Made the Switch
“I’m in full control of where and when I work. I love the transparency of knowing exactly what I’ll get paid for each shift. I know what ward I’m going to, who the Nurse Manager is, and if I’ve not onboarded with that hospital before, everything right down to where I should park and where I can pick up my hospital uniform. “
Andie, 5th year ICU nurse
“When I moved from Queensland I wasn’t sure where I wanted to work. I didn’t have first-hand experience with any hospitals in Sydney, but I knew where I wanted to live, and it was important to me to that work was an easy commute. I also wanted to be sure that if I work full-time in a hospital again, that the team that I work with is a good fit, and that the culture of that hospital is supportive. uPaged has given me the flexibility I need to try out many hospitals, and different specialities. What has been amazing is that one of the hospitals I do shifts at, is training me up in anaesthetics - which has been an added bonus.”
Sally, 4th year Theatre Nurse
“I signed up to uPaged before I went on maternity leave so I had another work option for when I was ready to go back. I saw that some hospitals have shorter day shifts available, and now that my baby is 4-months-old, those shifts really work well with our schedule. “
Kate, 6th year Ward Nurse
“I started Nursing as a mature student, and hospital staff always assumed I had more clinical experience than I did, so I have always done as much agency nursing as I can to increase the experience I had quickly. Agency work was really unpredictable and often last minute, but uPaged consistently have shifts listed well in advance across some really great hospitals.”
Dan, 8th year Critical Care Nurse
“I have school-age teenagers at home. Everyone knows how expensive they are, and uPaged gives me the flexibility to pick up extra shifts to save for family extras like holidays.”
Rachel, Theatre Nurse
Who isn’t agency or uPaged nursing good for?
Agency and uPaged nursing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea - and that’s okay. It’s typically not a great fit for nurses who:
Are fixed or set in their ways or thinking
Don’t enjoy learning or being shown another way to do things
Need routine and a schedule
Expect (or rely on) guaranteed work, on guaranteed days and at a fixed rate of pay.
Agency nursing is flexible work - nurses choose the work but the shifts offered through the likes of uPaged are dependent on those made available by the hospitals. The decision on shift availability for agency nurses is based on patient needs and the demands on their permanent workforce. If you’re the type of nurse that needs familiarity in facility, shift, and income, then agency nursing probably isn’t the right fit for you.
There’s also a downside to being an agency nurse - your position and contribution, by its very nature, may not be viewed as important, crucial or as competent as a full-timer on the ward by other nurses on that shift.
The reality is often very different - casual, on-demand nursing in hospitals is very much a specialty, like any other in nursing. If anything, it requires a higher standard than some other specialities because of the need to be able to hit the ground running in an unfamiliar workplace and ward. Being an agency or uPaged nurse means you are often working unsupervised and making high-level decisions in critical nursing situations - you just need to be aware that, unfortunately, a certain amount of stigma against on-demand nurses still exists out there.
One more thing ... if you’re making the move from permanent nursing to agency nursing, be mindful of who your next clinical referee will be. Nursing agencies don’t witness your practice, (and may only receive negative reports of your practice) and therefore can only comment on these and your hours completed in the case of a reference, which will not usually suffice for future employers.
On the flipside, because uPaged nurses get feedback at the end of each shift, this may be considered by future permanent employers in certain circumstances.
Who cannot do agency nursing hospital shifts?
uPaged and other reputable nursing agencies (and hospitals) will not accept new graduate nurses or any nurses without at least one year of clinical experience in an Australian hospital for casual hospital shifts. Some hospitals insist on a minimum of two years’ post-graduate clinical experience in an Australia hospital or specific departments such as ICU, Critical Care, Emergency, Theatre and Paediatrics.
uPaged cannot place new graduates or those without the prerequisite 12 months of clinical experience in an Australian hospital for casual nursing shifts.
So, clinical experience is optimal, but before you try and gain that experience via a nursing agency that will accept those without the experience, a word of warning. Joining an agency could actually be detrimental to your career, and you can risk losing your registration. How? Quite simply because you don’t yet have the experience to work unsupervised. Many agency nurses are likely to end up doing casual nursing shifts in aged care - and while necessary and crucial work - aged care nursing is very different to clinical, hospital-based work. If a hospital is your goal, then getting into a graduate program and gaining that year of professional experience is imperative.
uPaged is here to help you to find the very best nursing role to suit your timetable, lifestyle, specialty and career path. If you have the minimum Australian hospital experience required and would like to connect to the best casual nursing roles, get in touch with the uPaged team or register here now to access great shifts immediately. If you have all of our documentation on hand, you can be booked in a shift within 24 hours (depending on police check turnaround time). See a list of what you’ll need here. If you’re not quite ready for casual on-demand nursing, you can still stay in the loop by signing up for our newsletter or following us on social media via the links below.
*By clinical experience we mean face-to-face patient experience, providing ongoing care, treatment and diagnosis of patients in a hospital environment. Experience gained during university placements does not contribute to the required 12 months post-registration experience required to work in nursing agencies or with uPaged. Experience gained in Aged Care facilities is not considered as appropriate clinical experience to secure work in a hospital environment if that is the only work experience you have as a registered nurse.