You’re not alone if you’ve wondered what “the NOC shift” means. Somewhere in the long history of medicine, the night shift was called the nocturnal shift, staffed by nocturnal nurses.
Before long, the NOC shift entered the grand and often bizarre world of medical abbreviations.
Nurses love to banter about which shift is the hardest. In the end, each shift is tough with different benefits and challenges. However, surprising to some, the NOC shift can be rewarding and practical.
This article will help you decide if the night shift is right for you and how to thrive as a nocturnal nurse.
- General overview of the NOC shift
- Patient care in days vs nights
- Do nurses who work the NOC shift get paid more
- What might a NOC nurse encounter on the job?
- Tips on surviving the night shift
Overview of the NOC shift
NOC shift times vary depending on your employer, position, and department. Since most hospitals offer 12-hour shifts, common NOC shift hours for hospital inpatient departments are 19:00-7:30 or 18:00-6:30.
Some employers call this the “3rd shift” or even the dreaded graveyard shift. However, in any organization, it’s acceptable to simply call it the night shift.
Depending on the type and size of a medical facility, you might find night shift nursing jobs within these departments and specialties:
- Inpatient departments
- Emergency departments
- 24-hour urgent care clinics
- Operating rooms (ORs) and post-anesthesia care units (PACUs)
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA)
- Nurse practitioners working in hospitals
- Diagnostic radiology nurses (sometimes called interventional radiology nurses)
- House supervisors overseeing hospital functions
- Rapid response nurses who respond to life-threatening patient needs
Unit leaders typically bundle night shifts into 2-3 day sets with enough days off to switch between daytime living and nighttime working.
If your schedule varies and fluctuates, don’t hesitate to negotiate for a better work rotation. You can meet with your leaders and coworkers to improve the unit schedule.
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Patient care in days vs nights
Choosing between the NOC shift and day shift depends on personal preference. Knowing the pros and cons of both helps you decide which shift is best for you. In this section, we’ll go over what patient care can differ during nights and days.
The bright side of working the night shift
Working nights definitely has some pros to it! NOC shift nurses get to enjoy benefits like:
- NOC shift offers fewer interruptions. For many nocturnal nurses, their favorite aspect of the night shift is the reduced frenzy and management oversight.
- Night shift teams tend to have closer working relationships. With fewer staff and resources, nurses on the night shift rely on each other more often when trouble hits the fan. New nurses on nights report more mentoring from their veteran coworkers than day shift nurses.
- You can potentially gain new skills. With specialist teams at home sleeping, you solve problems on your own and with your fellow night nurses’ help.
- Fewer discharges occur on the night shift. These can be time-consuming headaches to coordinate and document.
- Fewer interruptions may mean more time with patients. Sometimes you’re able to spend more time with patients who need extra attention.
- Night shift can be more convenient for parents. Being home during the daytime is important to families. Still, nocturnal nurses must get enough sleep and care for themselves, too.
- A quieter setting may allow time to read patient notes. Not every night offers this, but night shift nurses can generally spend more time reading charts. This is a great way to improve your medical knowledge and understand a particular patient’s situation…and the day shift will love you for it.
The NOC shift has unique challenges
While the NOC shift catches a lot of flak, the day shift has its own challenges. The common complaint from day shift nurses is the constant interruptions.
By the shift’s end, they feel like ping pong balls bouncing between requests and expectations while trying to focus on patient care. This is hard for daytime nurses despite the benefit of more available resources and a more consistent lifestyle.
Alternatively, we’ll go over some of the main challenges NOC shift nurses may face:
- Night shift nurses have 1-2 more patients than the day shift nurses do.
- Doctors may not be in the hospital, so you’ll call them during the night for orders and decisions.
- All patients won’t be sleeping soundly. A few will sleep much of the night, but there are many reasons why some won’t.
- Keeping a routine of sleep, self-care, and family time is tough. It’s not uncommon for nurses that work night shifts will often feel tired throughout the day.
- One’s life feels centered on sleep. NOC shift nurses often find themselves preparing for the first night of their work week, and recovering from the night before.
- Computers are down more often on nights. IT departments typically will schedule updates and repairs to happen at night. So, it’s more likely you will experience some downtime on some systems.
Do nurses who work the NOC shift get paid more?
One of the great benefits of overnight work is the extra night shift pay called a shift differential. On average, night shift RNs get paid about 10-20% more than day shift RNs, either as an added dollar amount or a percentage of your base rate.
Here’s a helpful tip: NOC nurses recommend making your budget without including your differential pay in case you change shifts and lose the extra income.
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What might a NOC nurse encounter on the job?
Tasks and routines differ between the day and the night shift. The goal at night for inpatient units is to support patient rest. This complicates regular tasks like pain control, IV medications, wound care, lab draws, pre-operative prep, and post-operative treatments.
The night shift sees fewer discharges but often admits trauma patients from the emergency department.
They also encounter many sleep interventions for patients, different pain control challenges, and sometimes worsening dementia and mental health situations. Independent management of devices like chest tubes, wound VAC (vacuum-assisted closure) pumps, and various surgical devices may also be required.
Tips on surviving the night shift
Getting enough sleep and balancing your needs with the needs of your loved ones is key to thriving on nights. Whether a NOC position is currently your only option, or you’re burned out from daytime frenzies, don’t fear the night shift. With routine and self-care, you can flourish.
Check out Incredible Health’s night shift survival guide for great NOC shift tips.
“Surviving Long Hours and The Night Shift.” bradley.edu. Accessed June 19, 2022.
“Model contracts for RNs across the nation.” nationalnursesunited.org. Accessed June 17, 2022.
“Nocturnal Nurses Uncover the Secrets of Working the Night Shift.” rasmussen.edu. Accessed June 17, 2022.