Kathy, a final year nursing student, worked as an AIN (assistant in nursing) to make ends meet. But she discovered that she was treated very differently when she worked for an agency compared to working for public health. Her message? ‘If you are an RN, be kind to us, we know you are really busy and we want to assist you in whatever way we can.’
Main image from the video NSW Health – Assistant in Nursing.
I started university nursing studies when I was 35. I’d already had a career, been travelling and lived in a different country. The decision to leave my previous career and life seemed daunting, yet I felt ready to take on this challenge.
The biggest problem I encountered is how to work and maintain my study. My first semester I was able to use the money I’d saved and settle in. At the beginning of the second semester I began approaching agencies for AIN work. As soon as they found out I was only a first year student, they basically did not want to know and asked me to call back in second year. I took a part-time office job to make ends meet.
Halfway through my second year I began looking again at agencies. I replied to an ad on Seek and almost immediately received a response back asking me to go for an interview. Needless to say I was pretty nervous. However when I got there it wasn’t really an interview, simply fill in these forms and yes, you’re hired. I did a few online modules and within the week was working on a ward.
I expected this to be a different experience than placement, in as much as the work would be around basic nursing care. However I assumed the RNs would be as nice and helpful as when I was a student. I was wrong. On my placement I had enjoyed the camaraderie the nursing staff shared – as students we were welcomed into this (I got some really awesome placements). As an AIN I frequently had to ask for handover and I needed a tour of the ward for health and safety reasons. Some people just didn’t seem to want to do this for me. This wasn’t anything like the experience I had during placement.
About six months after I started casual work, I was lucky enough to be employed by NSW Health. I had the real interview, underwent a lot of criminal record checks, provided a lot of documentation and it was a very slow process. It was months before I had my orientation. I didn’t expect this. However, when I asked other people I found this was relatively normal, it’s just that I was basing my experience on finding a job in the private sector.
My first day on the job was a completely different experience to the agency work. All the staff were friendly and helpful, they clearly wanted to invest time in me. I noticed that even the nicest RNs who were teaching me things gave very little time to an agency worker. I remembered the feeling I had when I started agency work of being completely thrown in the deep end, chasing my RN around asking for handover so I at least had some idea what was going on with the patients. In some ways it felt like a different job.
I’m so privileged to be working for NSW Health, when so many of my peers struggle to get even a casual AIN position. NSW Health has a culture of teaching and learning, however in my experience you really need to be employed by them to experience those benefits. It shouldn’t be like that – regardless of agency or casual work I wanted to work my hardest and learn the most I could.
So if you are reading this as a nursing student, please don’t be put off by agency work. It was my foot in the door and I taught myself to think fast and manage a lot of work with very little support. All really important skills for an RN.
If you’re an RN, be kind to us, we know you are really busy and we want to assist you in whatever way we can. Please practise treating us the same as your public health colleagues. I think you will find most of the AINs are students and we could one day be your colleagues, so please invest in us.
Image credits from the video NSW Health – Assistant in Nursing.