Nurse Shift Disadvantages: Managing the Unpredictable

Nurse Shift Disadvantages: Managing the Unpredictable

Health Carousel Travel Nursing
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Nursing is a critical profession that requires round-the-clock care. Nurses must staff hospitals 24/7 and these critical shifts are not without their disadvantages. Health care professionals must work long hours and can be subjected to physical, emotional, and mental stress

While unpredictability can be an exciting advantage of the nursing field, it can also be quite overwhelming, especially for new nurses. Most nurses begin their 12-hour nursing shift with a strict focus and plan to follow their premeditated schedules. However, due to the unpredictable nature of patient care, this does not always work out, and nurses often find themselves reacting to unforeseen circumstances. Being organized and forming effective habits makes it easier to establish an equilibrium when chaos ensues.

This article will explore the disadvantages of different nursing shift hours and how to manage the unpredictable.

Average Nursing Shift

The average nursing shift is 12 hours, nurses typically split their shift between the hours of 7 am-7 pm for the day shift and 7 pm-7 am for the night shift. The 12-hour workday offers more flexibility than a typical 8-hour day, however, it leaves little-to-no free time for health care workers on scheduled work days. Longer nursing shift hours are beneficial in that they allow for more time off, less patient handoff, consistency in patient care, and greater shift flow. However, longer hours don't come without hardships.

Nurses usually start their day involved in health care discussions such as patient handoffs or medical rounds. Creating a standardized routine for gathering patient information, before administering care can save a great deal of time. Information such as lab data, recent tests, medications, and consults can help predict the type of care the patient may require.

Some nurses prefer to visit each of their patients before making assessments and providing medication. Other nurses focus on completing all avenues of care for each patient before moving on to the next one. There is no one best way for everyone however it is not a bad idea to do a quick peek at all your patients before starting your day. Establish what fits best for you and repeat that process, but be open to any loopholes thrown at you throughout the day.

Staying calm, organized, and delegating to ancillary staff like patient care techs, will help you get through your 12-hour nursing shift.

Challenges of a Nursing Shift

Health care workers face many challenges during their shifts. Nurses often have to deal with a heavy workload and they may be responsible for several patients at a time, each with their own unique needs, medications, and treatments. This can lead to a lot of multitasking and prioritizing to ensure that each patient receives the care they need.

Nurses often work with patients who are ill or in pain and may have to deal with difficult or emotional situations such as a patient passing away. This can take a toll on their emotional well-being and cause stress. Nurses need to take time to decompress after a long emotional shift.

Nursing can be physically demanding, with nurses often having to lift and move patients or stand on their feet for long periods of time. This can lead to physical strain and injury. Health care workers often experience back and neck pain making it difficult to perform heavy lifting.

In some healthcare settings, there may be a shortage of nursing staff, which can put extra pressure on nurses to take on more responsibilities and work longer hours. Nurses often have to take on more patients outside of safe nurse-to-patient ratios putting them at risk for physical and mental strain.

It is no secret that 12-hour nursing shifts can be challenging, and they come with a number of disadvantages that can affect the health and well-being of health care providers. Nurses often work long hours, which can be physically and mentally exhausting, especially if the nurse is working several shifts in a row.

Outside of a 12-hour nursing shift, the rest of a nurse's day is spent commuting to and from the health care facility, getting ready for the next shift, and then sleeping. There is minimal time available to spend with family or activities when working back-to-back 12-hour nursing shifts.

Fatigue and burnout are two of the main nurse shift disadvantages that are often faced by nurses. Health care professionals are required to work long hours and often with little or no breaks which can take a toll on them physically and mentally. This is especially true of a night shift workers health. Fatigue and burnout can lead to depression, reduced job satisfaction, increased turnover rates, and a decrease in the quality of care that patients receive.

Working nursing shift hours leaves little time before, during, or after shifts for self-care, which can lead to serious health risks. Night shift workers health often takes the hardest hit. Shift workers may find it difficult to carve out time for exercising and maintaining a healthy diet.

Night nursing shift hours often disrupt the body's natural, internal clock known as the circadian rhythm. This disruption of the sleep/wake cycle affects how the body functions and interferes with the natural release of chemicals and hormones, leading to potential problems in the cardiovascular system, immune system, metabolism and digestion, mental health, and possibly even fertility and pregnancy.

Studies have shown that eating at night can alter the body’s metabolism, placing health care workers who work 12-hour nursing shifts overnight at greater risk for health issues. Night-time eating can impair the ability to process glucose, leading to weight gain, and hormonal issues, and increases the risk for diabetes.

Scientists warn that shift workers may be at a higher risk for several types of diseases which include the following health issues:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Psychological disorders
  • Certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Adverse reproductive outcomes such as infertility
  • Difficulty managing chronic disease

Nursing is an ever-changing field, with new technologies, medications, and treatments being introduced all the time. Nurses need to be able to adapt to these changes and stay up-to-date with the latest practices and guidelines.

What to Know for Unique Shifts

Nurses working shift work are at risk for sleep deprivation which can lead to chronic stress and fatigue, impacting the ability to think quickly or clearly during routine patient care or in emergency situations. Nurses need to be quick-acting- highly critical thinkers throughout their nursing shift.

Nurses working the night shift may have fewer healthcare providers present and may be required to work more independently. This shift may require a higher level of vigilance, as patients may be more prone to falls, confusion, or delirium during the nighttime hours.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the negative impact that the unpredictability of a unique shift can sometimes carry. Nurses should prioritize tasks according to their urgency and importance. Focus on the most critical tasks first and then move on to less urgent ones. This can help avoid becoming overwhelmed and ensure that patient's needs are addressed in a timely and effective manner. By forming useful habits, some nurses have seen a reduction in the intensity associated with unplanned events ranging from dealing with incomplete charting to treating high-risk patients.

These habits include

1. Creating a list of tasks as you gather patient information that must be completed before you leave. This can include but is not limited to, wound care, blood draws, IV tubing changes, tube feed changes, patient teaching, medication administration, and specimen collections. By making a list, you can establish priority among your current activities as well as new ones that may arise.

2. Multi-tasking will help you to achieve more tasks at one time. Check your patient's vital signs before administering medication. Try to have everything in the room with you that you will need for patient care to avoid having to go back and forth. Complete as much as you can at one time, like toileting the patient, assessment, wound care, IV changes, and specimen collection.

3. Delegating tasks to others that are able to help will also lighten up your workload and ensure that your patients are properly taken care of in an efficient manner.

4. Charting after each patient, if you are able to, that way you have what was done fresh in your mind and you aren't faced with a large amount of information to input later on.

Establishing effective habits can make it easier to manage unexpected occurrences, allowing you to take control of your shift. Overall, nursing can be a challenging but rewarding profession. Nurses need to be able to manage these challenges and remain focused on providing the best possible care to their patients. It's important to take care of yourself and find ways to manage the unique challenges of each nursing shift.

About Health Carousel Travel Nursing

Health Carousel Travel Nursing offers full circle support to help travel nurses further their careers and improve their quality of life. We offer comprehensive benefits packages to support our nurses in health and mental wellness. Our nurses have access to Talk Space, a flexible online therapy website to help assist with challenging nursing shifts and the stress of being health care providers. Our recruiters are a great resource and are well-versed in nurse shift disadvantages. Contact one of our travel nurse recruiters to help you find your next travel nurse assignment today.


Is it better to work the day or night shift as a nurse?

Both 12-hour nursing shifts have their advantages and disadvantages. Day shifts often allow for better work-life balance, as well as fewer sleep disturbances. However, the flow of the day shift is usually busier and leaves little time for tasks you may need to take care of the outside of work. Night shift can be less busy, but you need to be an independent thinker because management and other ancillary staff are usually not around. The night shift allows for more autonomy. Your work-life balance and sleep may be affected depending on your lifestyle. However, working the night shift often gives flexibility with childcare, activities, and tasks that you need to complete during the "normal" work day (minus the whole having to sleep thing).

How can nurses get through a challenging shift?

Nurses face challenges on each shift that they work. Staying organized and remaining calm is the best way to handle a challenging shift. Start the day off by keeping an organized sheet of information during health care discussions to use as a reference for each patient's medical diagnoses and specific needs during your shift. Prioritize your tasks according to urgency, start with the most critical, and work your way from there to ensure patients' needs are met in a timely manner. Delegate tasks to nursing assistants to free up time for you to focus on more time on critical tasks requiring a nurse's expertise. Ask for help when you need it, so that you don't burn out and patients are taken care of in a timely manner. Take short breaks throughout your shift when you can to recharge and stay focused.

Nurse Bio

Lauren Rivera is a nationally certified neonatal intensive care nurse with over 15 years of experience. She serves as a nurse expert offering support and educational classes for women from preconception through childhood. Lauren is also a freelance health and wellness writer with works published on several nursing sites. She develops and curates content for various healthcare companies, and writes continuing education modules for other healthcare professionals.


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