Nursing shift times can make a rewarding job difficult. Twelve straight hours of any activity can seem overwhelming, let alone 12 hours of rushing around frantically while administering care to vulnerable patients. It is an effective way to exhaust yourself. So why, then, do nurses consistently work 12-hour shifts?
Many nurses subject themselves to the pressures of working these long shifts because the benefits outweigh the risks. For instance, working three 12-hour days or four 10-hour days in exchange for consecutive days off can be appealing.
Before you can decide if this shift is right for you, it is helpful to dissect the anatomy of the the12-hour shift (pun intended).
In this article, we will explore:
- What are nursing shifts?
- What are the advantages of working a 12-hours shift?
- What are some disadvantages?
- What are some survival tips?
What are nursing shifts?
Nurses can work 8-, 10-, or 12-hour shifts depending on their employers. Most private practices require nursing staff to work 8 hours, while rehabilitation facilities may range between 8- and 10-hour shifts.
Nursing agency shifts and nursing shifts in hospitals are the most likely to run in 12-hour intervals. Acute-care nurses can expect to work 12-hour shifts due to the level of care they provide patients and the urgency at which it is required. Registered nurses are also on the shortlist for working extended shifts.
One of the most common 12-hour shifts is the 4 on 3 off schedule. Here is an example of how that might look.
What are the advantages of working a 12-hour shift?
One of the top reasons that nurses give when asked why they prefer to work 12-hour shifts is that it allows for more flexibility. Lumping shifts together allows for longer periods of downtime. Some nurses find it appealing to forgo the “daily grind” and instead limit that hectic pace to just four days each week.
Some of the other pros of 12-hour shifts include:
Fewer patient handoffs.
Every time a new shift of nurses comes on, it increases the likelihood of errors in administering patient care. A 2017 study conducted by the Joint Commission revealed that the likelihood of inaccurate medication doses, missed medication, and failure to document symptom changes prevailed in 37% of all patient handoffs during shift changes. The fewer times nurses must update their peers on patients before ending a shift, the fewer the number of deaths and injuries caused by miscommunication.
Less commute time
A Center for Health Workforce Studies report on commute times for nurses discovered that most nurses did not work in the same communities in which they live. Although more nurses are commuting, working fewer shifts reduces the number of times they must make the drive to and from work. In turn, this saves money on fuel and automobile maintenance.
What are some disadvantages?
Strong math skills are necessary for the nursing profession. Nurses who do the math in their heads might immediately think: one 12-hour shift minus 24 hours in a day equals 12 hours left in the day. But wait! There is another factor. You must account for at least eight hours for sleeping. Then there is an average of 30 to 60 minutes for commuting to your job. Before you know it, you are looking at just a few precious hours left in the day to do other things. Even though you get three days off work, you will have other tasks that require your attention, so your free time is not unlimited. When you look at it that way, 12-hour shifts are not as beneficial as they may appear.
There are other disadvantages to working 12-hour nursing shifts. Here are just a few that have the most impact.
Health and well-being
Research supports that 12-hour shifts can negatively impact a nurse’s health. Among the adverse effects include cognitive anxiety, insomnia, muscular-skeletal disorders, and role stress. Nurses who work long shifts are more prone to anxiety and depression.
This is especially prevalent for nurses who not only work 12-hour shifts but work 12-hour shifts that rotate to include daylight, afternoon, and overnight rotations. Working 12-hour shifts is challenging enough without tossing this factor into the mix. It can leave your body feeling like it is in a constant state of playing catch-up as it fights to adapt.
What are some survival tips?
Only you can decide if working 12-hour shifts is in your best interest. If you choose a nursing position that requires it, here are some tips for surviving their hectic pace without losing your cool.
We know this is a foreign concept to most nurses, but it is important to get as much rest as possible before launching into your work “week.”
You are nurses, so the value of consuming a well-balanced diet is not lost on you. Still, it can be easier to preach it than practice it, especially when busy. Make sure you get enough fruits and veggies and add a little extra protein to each meal to help you feel fuller longer.
Deep breathing works wonders for stress and anxiety. When nurses practice mindfulness, they learn to recognize when they are becoming overwhelmed and can use techniques to help maintain a sense of calm.
Take your scheduled breaks
Trust us. Your patients are not going anywhere. Take that 15-minute break to use the restroom or grab a healthy snack and some coffee. Never, ever skip meals while on shift. You need proper nutrition to maintain stamina.
Need to blow off some steam about those 12-hour shifts or ask questions of other nurses who are living the extended-shift lifestyle? Visit our Incredible Health Nurse Community to connect with other nursing professionals to get the answers and support you need.