How to Work Through a Nurse Staffing Agency

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Medical-Surgical Nurse working a per diem shiftHave you considered working through a staffing agency? Temporary work appeals to many nurses who prefer more work/life balance, have children or are students and want to choose work that accommodates their schedules. Some nurses even use temporary assignments as opportunities to try out hospitals before taking a permanent position.

Two-thirds of hospitals in the U.S. employ temporary nurses, according to a study by KPMG. However, working as a temp is not for everyone. Most agencies require a minimum of one year’s experience in a specialty before placing a nurse on assignment. A successful temp nurse must be experienced and comfortable with change as there is usually little or no orientation before starting a shift.

Per diem versus contract nurses

Per diem nurses work part time, have the most schedule flexibility and are usually called at the last minute to fill in for someone who’s called in sick or when there are low patient-to-staff ratios. They’re also usually the first to be cut if the shift is overstaffed.

Contract nurses work full-time hours and typically receive benefits. Hospitals guarantee a certain number of hours in exchange for asking nurses to work weekends or holidays. Contracts are usually four, eight, 13 or 26 weeks long.

The more in demand your specialty, the more likely a recruiter will call you for an assignment. The most frequent requests are in acute-care facilities, medical centers and outpatient surgery centers, and in the areas of emergency care, post-op, neonatal intensive care and labor and delivery for hospitals.

Working with an RN staffing agency

If you can better understand the recruiter’s point of view, you will have an easier time working as a contract or per diem nurse. Recruiters work first for the employer, ensuring they find the best nurse for the job. They may have many requisitions open at once with a slim window of time to fill each job.

In many cases, you won’t hear back from a recruiter right after you’ve applied on an agency’s website. Your resume is added to a database, and a recruiter probably won’t see your resume until it comes up in a keyword search. That leads to the next point: having a well-crafted resume.

In order to show up in search results, your resume needs to list your specific experience so a recruiter can easily determine what type of qualifications you have. Recruiters need this information so they can immediately see if you’re a good fit for their open position, and they can better sell you to a hiring manager.

Linda Zaneski, nurse recruiter for the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, says listing LPN as a job description doesn’t say as much as an LPN on the telemetry floor working in cardiac care. “If I can’t see that they have specific experience in an area, I won’t consider them for a position,” she says.

Be clear about the type of position you’ll accept, and communicate your wishes to your recruiter. For example, if you’re not available for weekend or night shifts, or if you’d prefer to work only in certain areas, be sure to let the recruiter know.

It’s important to be responsive when a recruiter contacts you, especially if you’re looking for per diem work. These opportunities may come up suddenly due to someone calling in sick, for example, and a recruiter needs to find someone quickly to fill the position. And although you have the option of turning down a last-minute job, successful per diem nurses are those who agree to an assignment more often than not when actively looking for work.

Check in occasionally, and let the recruiter know you’re available. Many agencies have a “hot list” of candidates they’ve successfully placed in the past who are currently available, and will go to this list first when an urgent requisition comes in.

It’s accepted practice to work with more than one agency, but make sure you tell your recruiter if you’ve already applied for a position, either directly or through another agency. And if a recruiter contacts you about a job in which you’ve already been submitted by another recruiter, be upfront and let the recruiter know you’ve already applied. Having your resume submitted twice does not increase your odds of success and could burn bridges with the recruiter.

Once you have a relationship with one or more recruiters, be sure to take their calls even when you’re not looking for an assignment. You may be able to refer a colleague to the recruiter, and this would be greatly appreciated.

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