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.
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 fewer 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 long 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 handoff 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 workdays, 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!
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 incredibly 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 sometimes 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.
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 nursesworking 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 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.
Working a 12-hour nursing shift makes for a very long workday. 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!
So, it may seem odd at first to hear that I also LOVE talking about nurse burnout. In fact, I think every nurse experiences burnout at some point in their career (if you haven’t please email me back and let me know your secret!).
Here’s the kicker. Once you admit you have an issue with nursing burnout you open yourself to the idea of potential solutions. But if you just pull your hoodie over your eyes and continue to suffer in silence then nothing ever changes. And your burnout gets even worse.
So, let’s talk about solutions for nurse burnout! (Solving problems is always better than complaining anyway).
Last week I had an amazing opportunity to interview with nurse coach and fellow ER nurse, Jessica Smith about bouncing back from burnout!
Our Bouncing Back From Burnout YouTube interview can be found here:
During the interview, we discussed:
How you can find a work-life balance with a busy nursing schedule;
Why nurses need to make their own health a #1 priority;
How getting to the “why” in your burnout can help you find patterns that contribute to your burnout;
And why you should always surround yourself with positive support!
P.S. If you are a nurse struggling with finding ways to take better care of yourself, here is a FREE E-BOOK . It’s called Nurse, Take Care Of Yourself First. Because nurses work really, really hard. And we need to be taking better care of ourselves. It includes tips for nurses on how to stay healthy during 12 hour shifts, ideas for better self care at home and suggestions for finding a better work-life balance.
Many nurses struggle with finding a work-life balance. With increasingly demanding 12-hour shifts, its tough to stay healthyand sane when you are continually going a mile a minute. In time you may become overwhelmed and unsatisfied with your nursing career and your personal life.
Nurse burnout is real. The journey towards a satisfying work-life balance as a nurse is within your control and will only be attainable if you make it a priority.
Consider doing a little soul-searching. Take a moment to sit quietly with yourself and pinpoint precisely what you need to simplify your life. Here are a few things to consider on your journey to creating a better work-life balance as a nurse:
* This post contains affiliate links.
1. What are your priorities?
Take inventory of both your nursing lifeand personal life. Is it possible you may be juggling too many balls in the air? What do you envision your life to be like in 5 years?
Sit down and write a 1, 3, and 5-year plan. Make specific goals. You simply cannot create a satisfying work-life balance without fine-tuning your personal and work goals. Be brutally honest. Are you making major life decisions based on what you want to do or what you feel like you should do?
Many people (ahem, nurses!) are inherent caregivers who often give more to others before themselves. Now is an excellent time to think about how you will care for yourself first. Your happiness and success is your responsibility. Start by prioritizing what is most important to you!
2. Manage your stress
You have to manage your stress to achieve a work/life balance. This is a non-negotiable!
Here are two helpful ways to manage stress: #1) get moving with some type of physical activity (may I suggest yoga?) or #2) meditate (or just take a little time to chill out by yourself).
The benefits of exercise and mediation on physical and mental health are well documented in literature. For example, The Mayo Clinic has stated that “yoga may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate,” among many other benefits (my yoga practice has been a lifesaver for me!).
Also, a study published in the National Institute of Biotechnology Information investigated the effects of yoga on stress coping strategies of ICU nurses. After only eight weeks of yoga, the results showed that the participating ICU nurses had significantly better focus coping strategies and a significant reduction in perceived mental pressure. Just imagine how much better YOU could feel as a nurse who commits to a regular yoga practice.
Note: It doesn’t have to be yoga (although yoga has remarkably changed my life for the better over the past ten years). Exercise can come in any form you want it to: running, hiking, swimming, pole jumping, dancing in your living room. The best kind of exercise is the kind that you actually do!
3. Create more flexibility
In addition to the (literal) flexibility I get from yoga, I have also found flexibility within my workplace and at home.
12-hour shift schedules are already rigid enough. To find a work-life balance that works for you, consider other alternative scheduling options available in your workplace.
As a per diem nurse, I am employed “by the day.” Hospitals need the flexibility of per diem nurses so they can manage daily staffing needs in the hospital. There are many pros and cons to being a per diem nurse, and it is the only way I can effectively be a working mom at this time. Here is another way to create flexibility in your life: Try squeezing your workouts early in the morning before your family is awake. Sure, you will be tired, but you will also feel incredible for the rest of the day! (I have been practicing hot yoga at 5:30 AM twice a week before my tribe wakes up, and it is helping me function so much better).
If you are a nurse suffering from burnout and looking for alternative career paths, you are in luck. Finding a new way to practice nursing may help you find the work-life balance you have been looking for.
Here are a few ideas, just to get your brain thinking outside the box!:
(*Updated 3/9/20. This post about 12-hour shifts and health may contain affiliate links. You can read my disclosure policy here).
Preparing for 12-hour shifts as a registered nurse requires some prearranged groundwork and organization at home to ensure my day starts off on the right foot. As a working mom, I know I will be gone for a large chunk of time so I do my best to make sure things are properly set up at home the day before.
Additionally, as a nurse, I know how important it is that I take good care of myself so I can continue to give the best possible care to my family and patients. After all, I can’t expect others to listen to my health education if I don’t take my own advice and stay healthy too. No excuses!
My top 3 priorities for 12 hour-shifts and staying healthy:
#1. Grocery shop and prepare all meals in advance
I grocery shop every three days so I am able to prepare meals for my toddlers and for each of my 12-hour shifts at the hospital in advance. To avoid scrambling at the last minute I always make sure everything is ready and packaged to go the night before.
I prepare several options for the kids’ breakfasts, lunch, and dinner such including:
Avocado or almond toast
Bananas, apples, kiwis, various berries
Black bean or chickpea pasta
Veggies straws with hummus
In addition, one day per week I make a big batch of quinoa or brown rice and keep it handy in the fridge for quick meal preparation. When I need it, I add veggies, nuts, seeds, dried cranberries, olive oil, tempeh or whatever else I have in the fridge at that moment. This is so convenient because I can whip something up quickly for my work lunches and I also have it on days I’m home with the kids.
In fact, I use it at least once or twice a day! I make everything from veggie smoothies, to salad dressings, to soups and blended coffee drinks. It makes my life so much easier, especially now that we have kids and time is limited.
In the mornings, I make a vegetable and berry smoothie with 1 tablespoon of Maca powder, flaxseed and/or hemp seeds for protein, and acai powder. I alternate my veggies between broccoli, spinach, and kale. For the berry part: strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries although sometimes ill add half a banana or mango. (The Nutribullet is one of the best inventions of the 21st century, I tell you).
I also make several mason jars of overnight oats on Sundays with a variety of flavors:
Peanut butter and maple
Banana and walnut
Almond and raisin
I either add ground flax seeds or chia seeds for extra protein and antioxidant benefits. And I’ll top with a dash of cinnamon. These make such an easy breakfast to go!
#2 Sleep as much as possible before a 12-hour shift
Let’s be honest – 12-hour shifts usually end up being closer to 14+ at the end of the day. And, many studies show that working 12-hour shifts are damaging to nurse health due to the length of time that nurses end up working. In fact, an increased risk of depression, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers have all been researched and publicized.
Since the shifts are not getting shorter anytime soon, the best thing that nurses can due to take care of themselves is rest as much as possible before shifts. Therefore, I make it a huge priority to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep before shifts. (This was so much easier before we had kids!)
I few things I use to help me sleep better at night:
Eye mask and earplugs. After having kids I realized that I am an incredibly light sleeper. In fact, even the slightest noises wake me up in the middle of the night. And sometimes I have difficulty falling back asleep again which is so frustrating when I work a 12-hour shift in the morning.
Restorative yoga poses. I keep a yoga pillow and a yoga mat right next to the bed that I use for restorative yoga poses about 20 minutes before I try to go to sleep. It helps decompress me from my day, check-in with myself and put me into a snugly and sleepy mood.
I always feel so much better when I get my heart rate up on my days off. The benefits of exercise have been well documented and are essential for nurse self-care. It is no secret that regular exercise helps control weight, boosts overall energy, improves your mood and decreases stress levels. Not only does exercise benefit the nurse personally, but it also helps nurses have the stamina to give better care to patients as well.
Need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A yoga session or brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Which, in turn, will help manage caregiver burden and help you feel your best.
For me personally, yoga has been a total game-changer for my stress levels. But its also great to change up the routine a bit, and I enjoy escaping with my headphones for a run and listening to music. Whatever you do is great, as long as you actually do it!
Those who know me, know I’m a stickler for compression socks. Wearing compression stockings helped me work all the way through two pregnancies and I continue to wear them to this day. They help keep your legs energized, prevent varicose veins, and keep your ankles and feet from getting so swollen after being on your feet all day. Plus, they come is the cutest styles now.