published on
May 30, 2023

Nurse files: finding the ideal work-life balance with agency shifts

Jeanne Loganbill
posted on
Care professionals
Nurse files: finding the ideal work-life balance with agency shifts

When nurse Alison Rosbrook’s family circumstances changed, so did her priorities at work. Suddenly, the permanent role she’d been in for more than a decade felt too restrictive and inflexible.

That’s when she decided to switch from a full-time job with her local NHS trust to agency nursing. Six years on, she works in three different hospitals in Norfolk and Suffolk and enjoys a more flexible schedule and a better work-life balance.

Recently, we sat down with Alison to find out more about her agency nursing journey. Here’s what she had to say.

Finding purpose in nursing

Alison first became a healthcare assistant in 2006. When her dad passed away not long afterward, she felt drawn to a career with meaning and purpose: nursing.

“When I left school, I didn’t have the right grades to go straight into higher education,” says Alison, “so I started with an access course in health and social care.”

She progressed quickly, finished her course just two years later and began studying for her nursing diploma at a local university. 

“I kept working part time because I had a young family to take care of,” explains Alison, “but that just made me more determined to succeed.”

Alison qualified as a nurse in 2010 and started working in the accident and emergency department of a local NHS trust. Over the next seven years, she worked her way up to Band 6 and became a firm favourite among her colleagues. 

“I’ll do absolutely anything – I’m an all-rounder,” she says. “If a patient asks for a cup of tea, I’ll make them one. I’ll make a bed; I’ll have a chat. Maybe that’s the HCA in me.”

As an NHS A&E nurse, her main priorities were keeping staff and patients happy and safe – and that wasn’t always easy.

“You see a lot of people at the beginning of their healthcare journeys,” she says. “Some patients are frightened or in shock, so they need reassurance and support.”

When people came in with very serious injuries, she also had to comfort and support family members, giving them empathetic, honest answers to difficult questions. 

Moving to an agency role

In 2017, a personal situation meant Alison needed to spend more time at home. Suddenly, a permanent, inflexible job didn’t meet her needs, so she decided to move into an agency role. Thankfully, many of her colleagues understood and supported her decision.

She’s glad she made the switch.

“One advantage of being a locum is that you can concentrate on patient care,” she says. “You’re not a permanent member of the team, so you don’t have to worry about office politics.”

Working as an agency nurse, Alison can focus on one area of the ward, which is much less stressful than managing an entire department. Her coworkers vary from day to day, but she never has trouble fitting in.

“I care about everyone I work with,” she says. “Some of the HCAs call me their ‘work mum’, which is lovely. Apparently I have a friendly face – and I certainly enjoy getting to know people.”

Alison says she likes supporting and nurturing her team members, especially if they’re at the beginning of their careers. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, either.

“The job can be hard,” she says, “but you have to have a bit of a giggle along the way.”

Alison’s typical day

So, what does a normal day look like for Alison as an agency nurse?

“If I’m working on an acute medical unit, the first thing I do when I arrive is get a handover from the night team,” she says. “Then, I’ll go into the bay and introduce myself to all the patients.”

After that, Alison gets on with the medication round, checks care plans and helps her patients get ready for the day. Then she speaks to the doctor on call to review upcoming blood tests, discharge paperwork and other orders. 

After lunch, she does her paperwork, which varies depending on the trust she’s working for.

“Some of the hospitals I work in aren’t paper free,” says Alison, “so I spend a little time in the afternoon doing my accountability. I don’t like feeling rushed at the end of the day.”

As her shift draws to a close, Alison does the evening medication round and takes one more look at her notes for the day. Then, she prepares a handover for the night staff. 

“I think about what the night team might want to know,” she says, “and update the handover to make sure they’ve got all the right information. Then I say goodbye, catch the bus home, and that’s that.”

Nursing on the road

One major advantage of agency nursing is that you can take shifts in different parts of the country. Instead of being locked into one location, you can travel and try somewhere new. This is something Alison really enjoys about her role.

“When we go away on holiday in the UK, I take my uniform and look out for shifts that pop up near where we’re staying,” she says. 

Unlike some other agency nurses, Alison only works for NHS hospitals. That doesn’t mean shifts – or departments – are the same across the board.

“You can see how different places work and use that to build your experience,” says Alison.

Alison’s advice about switching to agency work

If you’re considering switching from your permanent role to an agency role or topping up your hours with agency shifts, Alison has some advice to share.

“If you want to move into the agency world, start by doing a few shifts,” she says. “Don’t just hand in your notice – step outside your comfort zone first, to see if you like it.”

Alison recommends making the change slowly, dropping down to a 50/50 mix of permanent hours and agency hours before moving into a full-time agency nursing lifestyle. 

“I’d suggest getting at least a year’s nursing experience in a permanent role before switching,” she says. “If you’re newly qualified, you might find it harder to settle into agency work. Baby steps.”

She also points out that while you’ll earn excellent rates, as an agency nurse, you’re fully responsible for organising holiday and sickness pay, as well as a pension.

“The pay structure changes when you’re an agency nurse,” she says. “You have to account for that. But once you get a feel for it, agency nursing gives you a lot of control over your work-life balance.”

Working with Florence

Alison loves the freedom and flexibility she’s found as an agency nurse. Benefits vary from agency to agency and some staffing providers, like Florence, offer perks to help make the transition from a permanent role easier.

Nurses, care assistants and support workers that sign up with Florence get:

  • Instant pay. Up to 60% of your pay as soon as your timesheet gets approved.
  • A free uniform. One free uniform, plus the option to buy more uniforms at cost price.
  • Free security checks. We fully refund DBS, PVG and AccessNI fees.
  • Free training. You can access 70+ CPD-accredited courses with Florence Academy.
  • Revalidation support. We’ll support you through NMC revalidation.

For a full list of Florence benefits, click here

Freedom and flexibility

Swapping a permanent job for an agency role is a big decision, and it’s best to make the switch slowly. Another option is to keep your current job and use agency shifts to top up your income. Whatever you decide, we hope you’ve found Alison’s story interesting.

Florence can help you find flexible shifts near you, take essential training courses and improve your work-life balance. Find out more and sign up today.

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