New to Agency Nursing? What to Expect on Your First Shift

New to Agency Nursing? What to Expect on Your First Shift

Starting work as an agency health care professional for the first time can be daunting. Whenever you sign up for a shift to a new facility for the first time, it’s like walking into a first day on the job. You don’t know the staff, the patients, or the layout of the facility. Some nurses thrive in that type of challenging environment, while others take a few shifts to get the hang of it.

There are always many unknowns walking into a nursing agency shift, and it’s perfectly normal to feel nervous. Just remember that you’ve had many first days of school and work before, and you’ve made it through them okay. But it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

As you prepare for that first shift, here’s what you can expect as you prepare yourself for your first shift as an agency nurse.

Before the Shift

Each facility approaches orientation for agency staff differently. This could be on-site training, either in the half-hour or hour before your first shift or another day entirely, or online reading and videos. If you sign up for a shift at a facility that offers neither, don’t hesitate to ask your nurse coordinator if something can be arranged.

As the new nurse in a new environment, prepare yourself to ask a lot of questions. That starts even before your shift begins. If you’re not sure where to park, what to bring, or what information you might need, and that information isn’t covered in orientation, look at your agency’s app for details or ask your agency representative. 

Much of the equipment you need to bring will be items you’d bring to any health care job — your badge, pens, a water bottle, and meals for longer shifts. Usually, if there’s something specific to the facility like a security code, you can find out details through the agency’s app and your nurse coordinator.

When the Shift Begins

When you first get to your shift, a lot of events may happen pretty quickly. Show up early so you can find parking, clock in through whatever method your agency uses, and figure out where you need to go and not add to your stress by rushing to be on time. Take deep breaths, and remember that you’re a professional. You can do this.

Where Do I Go?

All facilities have a front desk. Depending on what time your shift is, there may be a receptionist or other staff at the desk, or it may have a phone number to call and instructions on how to get a hold of staff.

When you first enter the building through the main door, go to that front desk. Introduce yourself with your name, what agency you’re with, and what shift you’re there to pick up. They will help direct you to where you need to go.

Who Do I Talk To?

When you end up where you need to go, there will either be a nurse preparing to leave or one waiting for you to take over. The nurse could be a regular staff member or another agency nurse like yourself. Sometimes you may end up at the nurse manager’s office. 

Again, introduce yourself. Many facilities contract with multiple agencies, and in the flurry of trying to get shifts staffed, they may not remember off the top of their heads who they’ve confirmed. At this point, you’ll get your assignment and shift report, and it’s the perfect time to ask questions.

What Should I Ask?

Make sure you have all the login information for charting software and any other information that will be necessary for you to do your job. Before you start working the shift, here’s an example of information you should ask about if you aren’t told:

  • Ask about login information. The nurse manager or director of nursing will normally be the one to create the login for you. Keep the information safe and easy to remember in case you end up working multiple shifts at that facility in the future.
  • If you’re passing medications, know what key opens which drawer or cart and how you can access controlled medications.
  • Know which patients are under your care for the shift and where they are in the building’s layout. Many facilities have wings or hallways and divide up duties based on that.
  • Ask where you can get supplies if needed.
  • Review important emergency information, like emergency exits or who to call and what to do in the case of an emergency or incident. 
  • Find out who you can turn to for help when you have questions — and it’s definitely an if, not when! As an agency health care professional, it’s not reasonable to expect to know everything.
  • Finally, make sure you get a detailed shift report from the nurse who is leaving.

During the Shift

It might take a bit for you to get into the swing of things, and that’s normal, even for fast learners. Sometimes, it might feel overwhelming, and you might feel like you aren’t going as fast as you could. But fast does not equal good, and you need to take the time to make sure you do your duties correctly. 

If problems come up that are unsafe for you or your patient, let either the nurse manager or your agency contact know. Ask for help, and if the person you’re asking for help from doesn’t give you the help you need, ask someone else. 

You’ll find that many facility staff will be willing to help you because you’re there to help them. But you may also find some staff who assume you should know everything about the facility already. The same applies to patients. In these instances, don’t take anything that might be said personally. If you have a bad experience, again, mention it to the nurse supervisor or your agency representative. 

When the Shift Ends

At the end of your shift, you’ll need to get your shift verified. Agency policies will vary, but usually, you need it verified by a nurse supervisor or another staff member. Don’t leave without following through with this, so you can make sure you get paid. 

If there were problems, let your agency know. Again, you don’t have to wait for the shift to end to do so, especially if it’s something that could jeopardize your license or a patient’s wellbeing. And remember, if you’ve had a bad experience, one of the great benefits of agency nursing is you don’t have to go back to a facility if you don’t want to.

If you’re interested in starting agency work and aren’t sure where to start, signing up for Clipboard Health can help you get started and connect you with facilities in your area looking for per diem health care professionals like you.

Michelle Paul

Michelle Paul is an RN Content Specialist at Clipboard Health. She has worked with a variety of patient demographics, ranging from young adults in foreign countries, to elderly residents in skilled nursing facilities, to healthy blood donors in her community. Her experience in content creation gives her a unique perspective on communication within the healthcare field.