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What Is An Agency Nurse? Definition, Role, Pay, and More

In recent years, agency nurses have become an integral component of the healthcare workforce due to the prevailing nursing shortage and the anticipated nationwide staffing crisis. This transformation in the healthcare industry has prompted considerable debate surrounding the role of agency nurses and what distinguishes their job from other nursing positions. This article aims to provide clarity on the subject and offer guidance to those interested in pursuing a career as an agency nurse.

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What Is An Agency Nurse?

An agency nurse is a licensed nursing professional, including CNAs, LPNs, or RNs, who opts to work for a nursing agency, providing nursing services to healthcare facilities or organizations. These nurses offer flexible solutions, ranging from short-term to long-term assignments, catering to facilities in need of temporary staff. They may undertake per diem or gig shifts, temporarily fill staff positions, or commit to long-term assignments based on the specific requirements of the client.

While the duties and responsibilities of agency nurses are similar to those of regular nursing staff, there are distinctive characteristics that set them apart. Unlike staff nurses who typically receive a fixed salary, agency nurses are compensated hourly and may also receive a stipend for living arrangements. This difference in compensation is attributed to the unique challenges agency nurses face, such as frequent travel and adapting to diverse work environments.

The Role of an Agency Nurse

Agency nurses perform various healthcare duties akin to staff nurses, with a primary focus on patient care. Responsibilities include attending to patients, administering treatments, and monitoring progress. Notably, agency nurses must quickly acclimate to new work environments and organizational structures with each assignment. Common tasks include emergency medical treatment, assisting physicians, discussing patient status with families, and ensuring the availability of necessary supplies.

Agency nurses have the opportunity to work in diverse settings beyond traditional hospitals and clinics, including nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, community outreach programs, and state-run institutions. They may also provide home health care services for individuals undergoing treatment at home.

It is crucial to distinguish agency nurses from travel nurses, as their roles differ significantly. Agency nurses have greater autonomy in selecting assignments based on their skills and preferences, with shorter-term placements, while travel nurses typically have less input on placements and often receive longer assignments, including the possibility of working abroad.

The Growing Demand for Agency Nurses

The demand for agency nurses has risen steadily in response to nationwide staff shortages, particularly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Facilities are increasingly turning to nurse agencies to meet temporary coverage needs, recognizing the benefits of this flexible staffing approach.

Projections for the future indicate a continued shortage of qualified staff in healthcare. States such as California, Texas, New Jersey, South Carolina, Alaska, Georgia, and South Dakota are expected to face significant deficits in registered nurses. The role of agency nurses in mitigating this shortage is paramount.

Becoming an Agency Nurse

Every agency has different requirements based on position, location, and other factors but generally:

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs)
  • A High School Diploma

  • A Valid CNA License in the State You Apply For

  • Up-to-Date Medical Records

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs)
  • A High School Diploma

  • Successful Completion of a 1-2 Year Non-Degree LPN Training Program

  • A Valid LPN License or a Valid Unencumbered LPN License

  • CPR Certification

  • Up-to-Date Medical Records

Registered Nurses (RNs)
  • An Associates' or Bachelors' Degree from an Accredited College or University

  • Successful Completion of a Nursing Program at an Accredited College or University

  • A Valid RN License or a Valid Unencumbered RN License

  • CPR Certification

  • Additional Certifications Dependng on Specialty

  • Up-to-Date Medical Records

In general, the ability to work independently and adapt to new environments. Excellent communication and time management skills are crucial for integrating into medical teams and navigating the dynamics of each assignment. Acquiring specific certifications relevant to the type of care required can enhance one's eligibility for desired assignments. In addition, some nursing agencies will require between 6 months to 2 years or more of work experience at a hospital, long-term care facility, or other setting.

How Much Money Do Agency Nurses Make?

Regarding salary, the average income for agency nurses in 2023 is approximately $100,179, influenced by factors such as position (CNA, LPN, RN, other specialties, etc), education level, agency resources, placement location, and the number of assignments undertaken in a year. Overtime hours are common, further contributing to potential earnings.

According to ZipRecruiter:

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs)

National Average: $20/hr or $41,734/yr

Salary Range: $10.98/hr to $29.77/hr or $22,843 to $61,929

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs)

National Average: $30/hr or $62,140/yr

Salary Range: $15.87/hr to $43.75/hr or $33,000 to $91,000

Registered Nurses (RNs)

National Average: $44/hr or $91,070/yr

Salary Range: $20.50/hr to $74.68/hr or $42,640 to $155,332

Keep in mind, these are averages and ranges. Salaries and payrates vary from state to state, agency to agency, and are affected by factors such as work experience and demand.


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