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.
Are you struggling to find a nursing position in your graduate year? Are you considering just “working agency” to pay the bills and gain experience? This quest could be harder than you first thought. Let me explain why.
Why most agencies don’t employ new grads?
–Lack of physical, mental and emotional support
–Limited ability to learn from others
–Lack of medication knowledge
–Feeling underprepared, leading to an early dislike for agency nursing or nursing in general
–Agency nursing is not guaranteed work
I know it could seem harsh, but these are solid reasons why most agencies don’t offer graduate nurses jobs, despite them having formal registration. Let’s explore these five reasons in a little more detail.
Reason one: Lack of support
As a new nurse fresh out of university, you’ll be hungry to start your new career but also anxious and potentially very overwhelmed all at the same time.
A structured graduate year gives you the emotional, mental and physical support most need to find their feet when entering a new clinical environment. A formal graduate year gives you the opportunity to ask questions to a designated person who is purely there for you and the other graduates. The other huge positive is the ongoing learning offered to graduates, starting to connect theories and tasks you’re doing on the floor to actual patient presentations.
As wonderful as agency nursing is, there is a limited ability for the full-time nurses on the shift to answer these questions, let alone induct each agency nurse and provide more than a very basic tour. This typically occurs whether you’re a graduate or 30-year veteran.
As an agency nurse myself, it’s our responsibility to ask questions and seek orientation if you have never been to a ward/department before. This takes guts, perseverance and initiative which I’m sure would be very daunting if you are only just getting your head around basic nursing tasks, like a patient assessment.
Reason two: Limited ability to learn from others
A formal graduate year generally starts with a few days of supernumerary time. This means you are paired, normally with a senior nurse who can show you the ropes. These few days are priceless. They not only introduce you to the rest of the team, but they also teach you time management skills, build on your medication knowledge and show you tricks to be more efficient.
You often hear people say, “sink or swim” when they talk about entering into a role. If you jump straight into agency nursing from your graduate year you miss out on these extremely valuable lessons and you’re basically on your own.
Reason three: Lack of medication knowledge
One of the biggest things I felt when moving from a student to Registered Nurse (RN) was the fact I could give medications – on my own. I remember thinking… “Is this even allowed?”
As a graduate nurse you will probably be feeling this too, even in a structured program where you can ask questions and seek clarification whenever you are unsure.
However, when you work agency you don’t always have this luxury. It will be assumed you have a particular level of medication knowledge and you’re safe to administer drugs, even if you haven’t given anything since your previous nursing placement 3 months prior.
Medication administration is a huge part of our job. To be truthful, the learning curve is heavily underestimated and it’s best to have the support and resources available while you’re still learning.
After you have the knowledge, physical skills and confidence to give medications you can then attack any future agency shift the following year with confidence (in the medication department at least).
Reason four: Feeling under prepared leading to an early dislike for agency nursing
Feeling underprepared while at work is a really horrible feeling. Most graduates will feel like this particularly in the first couple of months of starting their career. You’ll treasure the support from seeing the same people and being in the same environment.
However, when agency nursing, there is a particular level or standard of practice which is expected in every work place you go to. If you are just finding your feet this can be hugely stressful and make you, I hate to say it bluntly – dislike agency nursing.
If the ward you’re assigned to is short staffed, you may also be given a larger patient load, which is a lot heavier than what you would be used to when on placement. If your colleagues are all busy and can’t help you out, this maybe overwhelming and make you feel unprepared for the nursing environment as you have not developed enough experience to better manage your time and work load.
Most agencies, like HCA, ensure that their staff are prepared to work in the environment that they are placed in, hence why they don’t accept gradates within the first year of their career. This is so that they can properly look after the patients and importantly, enjoy their work.
Reason five: Agency nursing is not guaranteed work
There is a common misconception out there that graduate nurses are guaranteed work if they sign up to an agency. There is no complete guarantee of continuous work for any type of nurse, but graduate nurses are more likely to be considered for a full-time position with more support. HCA does offer full-time positions for nurses and midwives (https://www.healthcareaustralia.com.au/jobseekers/nurses/permanent-nursing/), but it is only after you have completed at least 12 months of clinical practice that this is available.
This may seem harsh but the agency actually has your back. They want you to feel prepared and have high job satisfaction when working any shift, but in most cases, this is only possible after you learnt vital skills throughout your graduate year.
Agency nursing is an incredible way to work the schedule you want and make some extra pocket money (or a full time wage!). But before you get too excited, focus on obtaining a graduate year and be a sponge with information. Then, when you are ready for agency nursing you will feel confident and ready for anything.
If you’re ready to take the leap to agency nurse, please register your interest here – https://www.healthcareaustralia.com.au/registration/