Career opportunities for certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and entry-level health care occupations are expected to continue growing through 2026, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Working as a CNA Is one of the most common ways to begin a career in health care, and as the need for CNAs increases in skilled nursing facilities and home health, which are expected to grow by 24 percent in the same time frame, CNAs will have a greater opportunity to work in additional care settings through agencies. Of course, being an agency health care professional requires additional skills like BLS certification, compared to working in a single facility.
Those interested in entering the health care field can work in a specific facility and expand their careers by exploring agency options. Since CNAs must understand health care considerations for various age groups and skills unique to individual units, it takes some preparation to become an agency CNA, as well an understanding of agency nursing, its advantages and disadvantages, and a few tips to be a strong agency health care professional.
What Is Agency Nursing
Agency nursing is useful in all care settings. It provides an immediate, short-term solution to limited staffing needs. Since health care is an around-the-clock profession, employers may need to increase staff to meet demands of those in need.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Being an Agency Employee
Part of the reason people choose to work as an agency CNA goes back to the benefits this career option carries. However, those working as agency CNAs may need to accommodate several disadvantages as well.
Pros of Being an Agency CNA
The benefits of working as an agency CNA are easy to understand and revolve around how flexible the overall schedule can be. Some of these benefits include:
- Rapid pay, e.g. per diem pay. Agency CNAs may have the opportunity to work in facilities that pay daily. However, this depends on the specific terms set forth by each agency. As a result, agency employees are paid by the agency, not a facility. In other words, agency, team members will need to discuss payment terms with their supervisors before taking an assignment to determine if per diem rates may apply.
- Higher pay rates than full-time employees. Since agency employees are not contracted to the facility for an extended period, with a few notable exceptions, they receive a higher hourly wage.
- Expansion of skills. Agency staff members have an opportunity to work across multiple care settings, which allows for the natural expansion of skills through ongoing learning opportunities. This includes experience in added care settings, such as geriatric care, dementia units, postoperative care, skilled nursing facilities, home health and much more.
- Travel options. Agency health care professionals also have additional travel options. It is not uncommon to work in multiple facilities across a given geographic footprint. For example, someone working in a Dallas facilities through an agency may work in another facility located 50 to 100 miles away. Obviously, working across state lines carries additional needs, like obtaining reciprocity through the appropriate agency. For instance, Texas CNAs may need to obtain reciprocity through the HHS.Texas.gov prior to working in Oklahoma or New Mexico.
Cons of Agency Work
As with benefits to other careers, working as an agency employee does carry a few disadvantages, which include:
- Uncertain schedule. This is the biggest problem for agency CNAs. The nature of agency work is subject to constant changes. As a result, those working in agencies may never know when they will be working. This makes planning vacations and off days difficult. During slow periods, agency CNAs may go for several days, if not weeks, with little to no work. The age-old adage of feast or famine still applies.
- Nursing “politics.” Another problem faced by agency team members lies in the somewhat political nature of outside employees working in a facility. In-house staff may be somewhat unreceptive to outsourced workers. So, it is important to agency team members to focus on their duties and being as professional as possible.
- Higher patient-to-staff ratios. Agency employees are utilized when staff members lack the resources to provide an appropriate patient-to-staff ratio. Therefore, instances may occur when agency employees work in a facility with higher-than-typical patient-to-staff ratios.
- Limited benefits. Agency employees may also pay a higher premium for benefits, like health insurance, and in some cases, employer-paid benefits, like paid time off and vacation, may be unavailable.
- Greater travel costs for assignments. The need to travel to multiple facilities as an agency employee also results in higher travel or commute cost.
How to Be a Strong Agency Health Care Professional
There is not a set of skills that set agency CNAs apart, but an attitude of acceptance of new experiences and a willingness to learn about new policies and procedures on an ongoing basis is crucial. Those interested in pursuing a career as an agency CNA should follow these steps:
1. Build a Strong Work History
A strong work history and ethic form the base traits of agency health care professionals. Those with a broader experience of care settings will have an added appeal to agencies. The key lies in obtaining a diverse skillset that can be adapted to fit different care settings.
2. Gain Experience in Multiple Care Settings
Furthermore, CNAs interested in pursuing a career in an agency should focus on care settings that often utilize agency services, such as home health, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, hospitals, and standalone care centers. It is unlikely agency CNAs will work in individual physician’s offices.
3. Complete Your CPR and BLS Certification for Multiple Age Groups
Completing training for additional skills, including CPR and BLS Certification, can increase earning potential for agency CNAs, but these skills may also be required for certain facilities. Moreover, skills should be applicable to the unique needs of a given facility.
For example, agency employees trained in providing life-saving support to children and infants will be able to work in facilities providing care for this age group. This concept applies to all age groups as well.
4. Maintain Flexible Schedule Preferences
Agency employees will also need to develop an open schedule. This refers to the creation of a schedule that is acceptable to an agency.
For example, staff members may need to be available on nights and weekends. Those with more availability are more likely to be contacted when an assignment opens. In addition, facilities may schedule agency employees over several weeks at a time. This acts to provide some stability for agency employees interested in working for a facility for longer durations. If the facility hires an in-house employee, future assignments are subject to cancellation. This may require agency CNAs to adjust planned assignments accordingly.
5. Complete Ongoing Skills Training
in addition to completing a BLS and CPR course, agency CNAs should think outside the box in considering courses that will make their candidacy for an agency position more attractive. In other words, agency employees will need to complete additional skill training sessions that may not be required for some facilities. Yet, these skills may be required for others.
Completing a First Aid Certification course should be one of the first ongoing skills training courses agency employees should pursue. First Aid encompasses providing immediate care for those of all age groups as well.
6. Ask for Supervisor Feedback and Recommendations
Supervisor feedback and recommendations can go a long way in preserving agency CNA assignments and attractiveness. Following each shift, perspective agency employees should consider speaking with the supervisor for a letter of recommendation or additional feedback in pursuing a career in agency work. This provides an excellent learning opportunity for employees new to the agency style of work, and it can open the doors to additional assignment options in the future.
7. Know When to Say “No”
there will be periods when an agency asks you to work outside of your preferred schedule. While new employees may want to work as much as possible, it is important to remember when it is okay to say “no.” Failure to recognize the need to take time off could result in employee burnout and diminish the quality of your work. Since health care is a field where burnout can have a life-altering effect on those in your care, it is essential employees only work when they are fully rested and capable.
Speaking of rest, agency employees may work different shifts from day to day. Working a morning shift on one day and a different shift on the subsequent day is common. Unfortunately, this leads to an increased risk of injury and may result in the failure to provide the proper level of care.
For example, someone working different shifts may not be able to get a full eight hours of sleep prior to working a subsequent day, like working the evening shift on Monday and the morning shift on Tuesday. Although this may pose minimal risk once or twice, each instance of sleep deprivation increases risk of injury and accidents, reports the National Library of Medicine. In health care, this translates into a greater risk of dropping a resident, performing care on the incorrect resident or other problems.
8. Be Prepared for Work With Proper Attire and Supplies
Agency CNAs working across multiple facilities will need to adhere to the proper dress code for the facility. This amounts to purchasing scrubs of different colors or other attire suitable for each facility. Check with the agency prior to accepting an assignment for dress code requirements.
Although proper attire is required, it is important for agency employees to have their own equipment. This includes the supplies necessary for all health care professionals, like pens, medical sheers, and a stethoscope. Although facilities will usually provide these items, taking time to locate these items detracts from your ability to provide the best care possible.
As a rule of thumb, carry at least one extra set of scrubs with you at all times. This ensures you have the proper attire necessary if called into an assignment on off days and when adverse events occur. In fact, one former agency CNA advises new hires to press a set of scrubs within a gallon-sized zip-sealed bag, and place the package in your vehicle. This is the easiest way to keep scrubs free from potential contaminants and ensure you have the right attire with you at all times.
Facilities utilizing contracted agency employees may be willing to overlook scrub color in order to meet staffing requirements. However, agency team members that routinely working in certain facilities can increase the chances of being assigned to the facility in the future by purchasing the proper color and hue of scrubs necessary for the facility.
9. Keep Proper, Authorized Documentation for Facility Assignments
Retaining the proper document for agency CNAs is typically the wallet-sized CPR and BLS cards and timesheets. Depending on the agency, time sheets may need to be signed by the supervisor at your assigned facility. Of course, agency employees will need to turn these sheets into the agency for payroll processing. Since some time sheets may not have duplicate copies, it is best to fax in time sheets, if allowed by the agency, at the completion of each shift. This prevents instances of lost time sheets and ensures staff members can retain a copy for their records.
All time sheets and paycheck stubs should be retained for review if an error in payroll occurs. Essentially, the agency employee bears the responsibility of maintaining this documentation until payroll for a given assignment has been completed and processed.
10. Take Care of Yourself
Agency employees must remember to care for themselves. Since agencies function around-the-clock in the same fashion as major health care facilities, it can be easy to spend too much time working and providing for others. Therefore, agency team members should set specific off days and take a few simple steps to stay healthy, like eating a balanced diet, exercising, and enjoying recreational activities.
Make an Informed Decision About Becoming an Agency Health Care Professional, and Get Your BLS Certification Today
Agency health care professionals and CNAs make up a vital part of the health care workforce. However, agency work can be more demanding than working for a single facility. Understanding the requirements of agency work and how to excel in this specific health care path can reduce stress and ensure better outcomes for those in your care.
Join the conversation by sharing this post to social media. Add your thoughts about agency work, and sign up for your online skills certification now. Agency work will always be a vital aspect of helping those in need of health care.