Agency Nurses vs. Staff Nurses: Understanding the Differences

Agency Nurses vs. Staff Nurses: Understanding the Differences | CareerStaff Unlimited

Perhaps more than ever before, healthcare staffing is top of mind for providers. And, faced with challenges like surging turnover and labor shortages, employers may find themselves reconsidering a basic question. Just what are the differences between agency nurses vs. staff nurses in a post-Covid world? How have they changed, what do they cost, and what should leaders know before investing in either?

Agency Nurses vs. Staff Nurses: Why Does It Matter?

Turnover spiked during the pandemic, a time when many nurses chose to leave their jobs and even the healthcare profession. And retention still remains tough in some parts of the country, while others face intense shortages of skilled workers.

As a result, the average RN and LPN is now six years younger than before the pandemic. And experienced nurses are harder to find, especially in certain states and for some specific units (like mental health and emergency medicine, for instance). Nursing homes and long-term care (LTC) facilities still struggle with enormously high turnover rates.

With a changing workforce come new and different demands. And today, few organizations can operate without the help of third-party staffing providers. But to get the most value from agency-provided nurses, it’s important to fully understand them. Subsequently, that means taking a look at the advantages of strategic use of agency nurses, how they’re paid and scheduled, and ultimately how they stack up vs. staff nurses.

Key Differences: Agency Nurses vs. Staff Nurses

What’s the difference between agency nurses vs. staff nurses? Staff nurses work as part of a provider’s core team. An internal hiring manager or HR team sources, vets, and hires them directly, as per predetermined internal processes. That doesn’t mean that they’re always full-time workers, though. Staff nurses can also work part-time or per diem — for instance, as part of an internal float pool.

On the other hand, agency nurses come from a recruiter or recruitment company that specializes in hiring and placing nurses. Many people think of travel nursing when they hear agencies. And with good reason — they’re a valuable source of these essential workers. Ultimately, though, agency nurses also work full-time roles, as well as part-time, per diem, or in virtually any other capacity.

Differences in Benefits

What are the differences in the benefits for staff vs. agency nurses? Healthcare organizations find and recruit staff nurses according to their own hiring guidelines. This gives them full control over the process. But it also gives employers full responsibility for quickly and capably carrying out — and paying — for every step of a challenging process, including sourcing, vetting, interviewing, and more.

Travel nurses, on the other hand, are provided by a third party. That provider also does the work — and incurs the expenses — of hiring and even onboarding and training. And because they do these things constantly, the process is much faster, giving healthcare organizations almost instant access to the nurses they need. Given today’s high-stakes labor market, that’s a major benefit indeed.

In addition, agencies provide access to a much larger pool of nurses, sometimes even from out of state. (That can be a huge benefit for employers operating within the Nurse Licensure Compact.) More nurses means more flexibility, letting employers quickly scale up their workforce to meet shifts in census or other needs.

Takeaway: The use of internally sourced staff nurses offers direct oversight and consistency. Agency nurses are faster and more flexible, offering access to a wider pool of talent.

Differences in Scheduling

How is scheduling different when it comes to agency nurses vs. staff nurses? A healthcare provider’s own management team are fully responsible for scheduling all Internally sourced staff. That usually means arranging availability — days, nights, overnight shifts, and so on — when sourcing and interviewing. It also means establishing policies for overtime, shift swapping, PTO, and other core staffing elements.

Often, agency nurses simply fill in where needed within that existing schedule. In those cases, the organization still handles the strategy and mechanics of scheduling, while the agency provides the requested nurses.

If they choose to use agency nurses exclusively, leaders will set scheduling by working directly with their staffing partner of choice. Or, they can partner with a managed services provider (MSP) for access not only to agency nurses but also a full mechanism for scheduling, as well as vendor management and a host of other workforce essentials.

Takeaway: Scheduling is the responsibility of in-house management for staff and most agency nurses. Healthcare MSPs can provide agency nurses as well as scheduling assistance or fulfillment.

Differences in Pay & Expenses

What’s the difference in pay between agency vs. staff nurses? Staff nurses receive standard industry pay — depending on factors like location, department, and experience — from the organization that employs them. The employer also pays all associated costs like benefits, payroll taxes, and overtime. They also foot the bill for finding, interviewing, and vetting workers, as well as the salaries of the HR managers and professionals who carry it all out.

Conversely, agency nurses usually receive slightly higher pay to compensate for their flexibility, as  contractors in most industries do. They’re typically paid by the staffing company, either as contractors or salaried employees. The healthcare organization pays a predetermined fee; the agency then provides the requested nurses.

If agency nurses come at a higher price, it’s important to remember that those costs cover more than just salary. The agency also arranges payment for any benefits and payroll taxes, and manages the sometimes complex regulations around employing contractors. It can also reduce the cost associated with overtime — not just the direct financial expense but also the rate of burnout and turnover.

Takeaway: Staff nurses are paid internally, while agency nurses are paid by the staffing provider. When used strategically, the benefits provided by agency nurses can help offset their higher costs.

Fast, Easy & Cost Effective Nurse Staffing from CareerStaff

The bottom line? Today’s best nurse staffing companies not only provide nursing professionals to every corner of the United States, they also help employers get the best value from them. More than simply providing fill-in workers, they help ensure consistency and quality of care with workforce solutions customized to meet each employer’s specific operational needs.

In short, healthcare staffing companies like CareerStaff are designed to make nurse staffing better, easier, and more cost effective than before. Contact us today to discover what our Joint Commission-Certified solutions can do for your organization. Or get the ball rolling now by filling out a quick staffing request below.