The Effects of Long Nursing Shifts

The employment practice of shift work has become very common in American’s work place and can be found in industries like healthcare, engineering, oil, gas, and more. By taking advantage of an entire day, rather than just the typical eight hour work day, companies can be more productive and thus earn more money. But this practice may not be sensible for the healthcare industry. With patients’ wellbeing and lives in the hands of hospital medical staff, how do long shifts affect nurses and the quality of care they provide?

Twelve hour shifts became popular for nurses during the 1970s and 1980s. At that time, there was a serious nursing shortage that required hospital administrators to think creatively to address the growing needs of their patients. Hospitals began offering nurses more benefits and nursing associations were able to negotiate a string of longer shifts and followed by more time off. Thus the twelve hour nursing shift was born. A large percentage of nurses would attest to the benefits of this shift pattern, often working three twelve hour shifts in a row with three days off. They enjoy extra time off with their families and the flexible schedule. But many researchers and industry experts are recognizing the hazards associated with this kind of work.

A study conducted by the University of Maryland, Baltimore, surveyed 80 registered nurses and found that 50% of them actually worked longer than their required twelve hour shift. They also only received an average of 5.5 hours of sleep in between their shifts. This means that these nurses were less likely to physically and mentally recover from their previous shift before they were required to report for their next one. This lack of sleep can lead to drowsy driving, musculoskeletal disorders and even patient care errors. Another study surveyed 393 nurses who had worked 5,317 twelve hour shifts and found that they were three times more likely to make errors on the job than nurses who had only worked an 8.5 hour shift.

If you are interested in pursuing a nursing career in a hospital setting, you might consider the benefits and disadvantages of working twelve hour shifts. Perhaps contact your local hospital and ask to shadow a nursing professional during their shift. Being able to experience the work load for yourself and having an opportunity to speak with a nurse in that position could provide you with very valuable insight.

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