Location of work
The most obvious difference is the location. The agency nurse will provide cover wherever needed. So this could be anywhere within the agreed mileage radius for agency work. They get to meet new people regularly, work in different settings and pick up additional knowledge. Similarly, working with different clinicians can be a useful asset to professional development. Working in a permanent position provides predictability and continuity with the same team members.
Pay rates can vary quite considerably between the two work types. Generally, with agency work offering a higher rate of pay. As agency nurses travel and work with different people, they are rewarded for adaptability and flexibility. As agencies are larger companies, they often provide extra incentives like annual bonuses and more regular pay increases.
There is no denying that a permanent position provides a more predictable income. Agency nurse contracts mainly offer zero hours, however different agencies offer different things. Therefore, it is worth doing your homework before you commit. With this in mind, you could say that a permanent position offers higher job security. There's more need now than ever for dental nurses. This could suggest that more and more practices are taking on agency nurses thereby giving opportunity for consistent work.
Progression of skills
Both positions have potential to help develop skills through further training or providing opportunities within the workplace. For permanent dental nurses, this could be working alongside a specialist and learning about the specific equipment, instruments and assisting skills. General dental practices usually comprise of general dentists, with a small number of practices having one specialist on site and even fewer having more than one. As well, specialists' clinics represent a small number, so while there are opportunities out there, they're not as common as you'd think.
Agency nurses definitely have more opportunity to expand their skills as they are visiting different places. The wide variety of work can take agency nurses outside the dental practice environment into different settings, such as hospitals, mobile dental units, prisons etc. By working in different areas of the community, they find out about the different ways dentistry is provided, greater awareness of dental care barriers and difficulties of people in the wider communities as well acquire lifelong skills. In addition to working with diverse equipment and materials, they are also learning about the latest trends in dentistry. Working in a dental practice can also give more opportunities of attending in-house training courses and for climbing the career ladder, lots of dental nurses work their way up to dental practice managers or dental nursing assessors.
Agency work allows greater flexibility of work; dental nurses can choose their working days and hours and can change this more easily should their circumstances change. This allows them to organise their work around their lives and not the other way around. Flexibility is one of the many things that entices people to do agency work in the first place; being able to work hours that suit their family and personal commitments helps them to achieve the work life balance that they are looking for.
Whilst you have the option in practice to work part time or have a contract for 'x' number of hours, to change these it can be more of a faff. Any changes made will have to suit the needs of the practice and therefore isn't always straightforward. Again, this is something that would vary from each practice and so it would be worth discussing with your employer.
Everyone working is entitled to the standard 28 days of holiday per year (or the pro rata equivalent). The holiday process will differ from practice to practice and also from agency to agency. Although, generally no more than two consecutive weeks can be taken unless this is agreed with the employer. Agency dental nurses have their holiday pay included in their hourly rate, another reason why the hourly rate is higher. However, a nurse in a permanent position will get paid days holiday.
Responsibilities and daily duties
Whether dental nurses are employed by dental practices or agencies their professional responsibilities do not change. Therefore, they must ensure their CPD hours are up to date. Every year they renew their GDC indemnity. This is their responsibility and employers will support with advice and reminders, but ultimately dental nurses will have to ensure that they are compliant in line with GDC standards. Their daily duties will remain the same although an agency nurses' daily duties may differ each day depending on practice protocols that they adapt to.
As you can see, it really does boil down to personal preference. Whether you work for an agency or have a permanent position in practice. Ask those questions, work out what you want, and find out what works for you.