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5 Traits Exceptional Agency Nurses Have Which You Should Adopt

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By Emma Smith, ED/Critical Care Nurse and author of the blog ‘The Other Shift’ 

The ‘Other Shift’ is about creating a place for shift workers like Emma who might be battling sleep fatigue, struggling to exercise and stay healthy or finding the right balance between ‘you time’ and managing your relationships.

Agency nurses who are serious about expanding their nursing career while making a few extra dollars in the process, want to be in-demand. They want to be the nurse that leaves a lasting, positive impression on every workplace they visit and very patients they care for. They want to finish a shift and know that the healthcare facility will want them back again. But what are these qualities?

What behaviours make an exceptional agency nurse?

•    Being proactive

•    Remaining professional

•    Confident, but not afraid to feel vulnerable 

•    Constantly adaptable

•    Thorough

Feeling comfortable and impactful as an agency nurse takes time and experience. But we’ll speed up the process for you by exploring five personal traits more than often, an exceptional agency nurse possesses and that you should adopt. These will not only increase your work opportunities but also personal growth within the nursing profession.

1.    Being Proactive

Regardless of where you work and the industry you’re in, everyone is waiting for somebody else to make the first move. Nursing included. Even though you might not know anyone, or you might be unfamiliar with the environment, every shift should be an opportunity for you to shine. Putting your hand up to volunteer for the mundane and even arduous jobs will show to your colleagues and manager that you possess a high work-ethic and a willingness to try new things, despite potentially feeling uncomfortable.

Don’t wait (or worse, sit around on your phone) to be asked to do something and instead be proactive. There are always vital signs to be taken, equipment to be cleaned, medications to be given and concerned family to talk to, so get busy.

Furthermore, being proactive in requesting your roster and being up-to-date regarding registration, continued professional development (CPD) hours and agency-specific learning modules are all positive traits of an extraordinary agency nurse.    

2.    Remaining Professional

Upon employment, you were instructed by the agency on how to dress and represent their company. But, there is nobody from the agency directly watching you to make sure you uphold these standards… So, what does this mean?

You are in control of how you behave. You are in the driver’s seat to put your best foot forward and ensure both yourself and the agency are viewed in a positive light. How you dress, your attitude, your promptness and ability to be organised all fall under this banner. Working within your scope of practice and your ability to form and maintain professional, therapeutic relationships are also key points to remember.

If you need some direction moving forward, think about an agency nurse that you believe is phenomenal. Are they organised? Dressed appropriately? Show up on time and fit seamlessly into an existing team? Mirror them for your future shifts as a great starting point.

3.    Confident, but not afraid to feel vulnerable

Being a confident agency nurse doesn’t mean arrogance and intimidation. It means you have confidence in your own ability to learn from others, take advice and direction and then complete the job safely, asking questions when unsure.

I like to call this being “coachable.” Despite being a sporting word, I learnt from my years playing basketball, it applies to nursing too. 

But how does this look in the nursing industry?

•    Maintain eye contact with your manager, your instructor or fellow nurses who are showing or teaching you something new.

•    Letting the teacher finish what they are saying without interruption (even if you’ve heard it before).

•    Don’t take offence or have strong opinions about the education being provided and instead be humble and thank them for the tips.

•    Asking questions to clarify a point and why it’s better than a different method you’ve been doing.

•    Don’t say, “yeah, I know that” when you’re not doing it, as it makes you look silly.

•    Perform a task with their new approach and ask for direct, specific feedback if they observed you.

The bottom line here is not to be stubborn in your willingness to learn and take on advice or recommendations by being respectful. Not everything you hear will be “by the book” or the way you normally do things. Be a sponge and work out what strategies you will or want to adopt in your own time.

4.    Consistently Adaptable

As an agency nurse, often what you think your shift is going to look like ends up being something else entirely.

You could be moved to a different area, asked to stay longer or even assigned to a totally different nursing role due to the demands of the ward/department.

How you act when asked to change or alter something will dictate how you are perceived. This may or may not be fair, but unfortunately, it’s how the agency game works. We are there to “fill a gap” and meet the demands, so being flexible and calm will be highly honoured and respected by the shift manager and your colleagues.

In saying this, speaking up and using clear communication skills if you are being moved into an area, where you have limited experience, is vital. The manager or team leader needs to know your background and level of expertise before making changes to ensure patient safety is maintained and you’re not putting your registration at risk.

5.    Thorough

You should aim to be the agency nurse that doesn’t need to be checked on by your manager every five minutes. Don’t cut corners or miss details along the way.

The following may seem like small things, but the thoroughness in your nursing practice will never go un-noticed by your colleagues and your patient. Here are some ways you can showcase the level of detail;

•    Completing fluid balance charts (both starting AND finishing times)

•    Complete documentation as you go rather than leaving it all for the end of your shift

•    Cleaning up around a patient’s bedside and putting away unused equipment

•    Decontaminating monitoring equipment after use

•    Keeping your patient and family informed by answering questions honestly, always giving them access to the call bell and offering assistance to the bathroom regularly

•    Asking clarifying questions after reading the policy instead of just “doing it,” without knowing why or how

•    Updating and completing admission details, care plans, diet changes and mandatory daily checks

•    Being on the look for time-saving techniques and “picking the brains” of nurses who seem to have their “ducks in a row”.

•    Be an advocate for your patient. This steams from being thorough and having sound knowledge of the patient’s plan of action. If something doesn’t feel right regarding the outcome for your patient – say something. 

In summary, achieving success as an agency nurse looks different for everyone depending on your goals. But there are particular skills and behaviours that exceptional agency nurses display and possess, such as professionalism, confidence and adaptability. All pave the way for continuous, positive experiences as an agency nurse.

Smile be excited to have accepted the shift and good things will flow from this behaviour.

Cheers,

Emma Smith, The Other Shift