Pros And Cons Of 12 Hour Shifts
December 11, 2018
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Before you consider hospital nursing as a career you may want to weigh the pros and cons of 12 hour nursing shifts.  I wish someone had shared this information with me before I became a nurse so that I had a better idea of what to expect.  Especially as a working mother.

Nurse standing with her arms crossed

Pros of working 12 hour shifts:

More work flexibility

When you work 12 hour shifts you can get more creative with a work schedule.  That is so important to me as a working mom. I want to be available when my kids need me to be home from work.  In addition, I often feel that I get to experience what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom and have the ability to also work full-time (although I am a very tired mom these days).  

I try to make my schedule the same every week for consistency.  I usually work every Monday and Wednesday, and every other Sunday. However, if I need to be home on one of my usual work days then I can request to work a different day, or switch days with another nurse.  

In addition, working as a per diem nurse has given me even greater flexibility with my schedule.  I can work as little as one day a week or as many as 4 or 5 as long as the hospital has a need for nurses (although I choose never to work more than 2 or 3 max).  

More days off

Who doesn’t want to work less days in a week?  When you work 12 hour shifts as a full time nurse, you get to work three days a week instead of 5.  That also means that you have 4 days off every week instead of 2.  

On the flip side, keep in mind that a 12 hour shift makes for a really, really loooooong day.  Never underestimate the exhaustion that comes with working as a nurse for 12 hours a shift!  You will need those extra days of to recover.  

Less commuting to work (save time & gas!)

Working three days a week instead of a more traditional Monday through Friday schedule means that you spend significantly less time commuting to work. In addition, if some of those days fall on a weekend then you can miss traffic completely!  Personally, I don’t love working on the weekend because I prefer to be home with my family, however I do appreciate how fast I can get to and from work.  That is something to consider when you live in a high traffic city like Los Angeles. 

Congruence of care

When nurses work 12 hour shifts they only give report to oncoming nurses twice in a 24 hour period.  Working 8 hour shifts requires that nurses give report 3 times in 24 hours.  With a 12 hour shift, nurses do less hand off and are able to spend more time with the same patients.

Less caregiver change could potentially translate into a decrease in nurse error because you are handing over patients less frequently.  There is less chance for miscommunication. 

Congruence of care is more important on nurse units where patients stay for longer periods of time.  As a ER nurse we are used to having several new patients and handing care over to floor units more frequently so this may not be as much of a benefit if you work in ER.

Possibility of taking “mini vacations” without using vacation time

When you have the option to have several days off in between work days, it becomes possible to take mini vacations without putting in a vacation request.  In fact, I have taken up to a week off at a time to go to Mexico without using any vacation days.  

When you consolidate your hours into longer periods of time per day, then you can take more days off in a row.  For example, if I am putting my schedule in for a two week period, I can request a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday for the first week and a Thursday, Friday, Saturday for the second week.  That leaves me with 8 days off in between!

pros and cons of 12 hour nursing shifts

There are pros and cons to working 12 hour nursing shifts that you may want to consider.

Cons of working 12 hour shifts:

May put a nurse’s health at risk

It is no surprise that nurses work incredibility hard.  I come home at the end of a 12 hour nursing shift with an aching back and burning feet.  This is because I, like most nurses, often don’t have time to rest while at work.  When I do have a minute to sit down to chart, I’m lucky if I can find a chair.  I know a few older nurses who have been working bedside for 25 years and they literally have a permanent limp and can barely stand up straight.  

Many nurses work 12 hour shifts with minimal breaks. We are lifting and pulling patients, often spending the majority of our day on our feet, managing stressful and sometime critical situations while doing everything we can to hold our pee for hours on end!  Some days when I finally get a break to eat lunch and I am at my weakest, I find that our break room is stocked with donuts and cookies.  My exhaustion can be overwhelming and the temptation for a little pick me up is never higher than right at that moment.   

With all of our education, nurses should be good role models for health.  But unfortunately that is not always true.  We have created  a culture that sets many nurses up for unhealthy habits.  

More nurse burnout

A University of Pennsylvania study on hospital nurses found that the longer the shift, the higher the levels of burnout and patient dissatisfaction.  The researchers discovered that nurses working shifts that were ten hours or longer were up to two and a half times more likely than nurses working shorter shifts to experience burnout and job dissatisfaction.

One reason may be that longer shifts give nurses less time in a day to care for themselves.  I have found it challenging to do any self-care on days that I work 12 hour shifts because nearly every waking hour is spent caring for patients.  Furthermore, the study found that the nurse burnout associated with longer shifts increased the chances of the nurse wanting to leave the job.   

If you have kids, you won’t see them on the days you work

As a nurse and mom, one of the worst parts of working 12 hour shifts is that I don’t get to see my children at all on the days that I work.  They are still asleep when I leave for work at 6 o’clock in the morning and they are already in bed by the time I get home at 8:30 PM.  Even worse, when I work back-to-back shifts I may not see them at all for 24 to 36 hours at a time.  I could as easily have been out-of town as far as they are concerned.  Nursing is a good career for moms, but this still something you may want to consider.

In conclusion

Working a 12 hour nursing shift makes for a very long work day.  But that is the price I must pay for getting to spend more days at home. So, the benefits of the 12 hour shift far outweigh the cons for me.  Admittedly though, I really do focus on the benefits of working 12 hour shifts as much as I can. I must remind myself to stay positive.  There are some days I wonder how long I can physically keep up with the job before I permanently injure myself or completely burn out. 

Right now I remain passionate about helping others as a nurse and I am grateful to have work flexibility that allows me to spend more uninterrupted days off with my family than I would have with a standard 9 to 5 schedule. When I think about it in that way I realize I am lucky to get to have the best of both worlds.

P.S    Sign up below for your FREE COPY of “The Nurse’s Guide To Health & Self Care” at the bottom of this article!

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