Why Do Nurses Work 12 Hour Shifts?

why do nurses work 12 hour shiftsWithout fail, whenever someone hears you’re a nurse, chances are good they’ve said “oh, it’s so nice that you only have to work three days a week.” Cue your eyes rolling out of your head, down the hall and out the door. Sure, three days a week sounds like a dream to people who work five days a week. That is, until you remind them that nurses routinely work 12 hour shifts and are on their feet much of the day. Those 12 hours are hard work! 

When Did 12 Hour Nursing Shifts Begin?  

Back in the 1970s, hospitals began scheduling nurses for 12 hour shifts. Back then, the nurses preferred working fewer days per week, but still wanted to maintain full-time status. Hospitals also found that 12 hour nursing shifts made scheduling easier for their staff because they can schedule fewer nurses per shift. Since then, 12 hour nursing shifts are increasingly more common. 

Why Do Nurses Work 12 Hour Shifts 

There are a number of reasons why 12 hour nursing shifts are so common. One is because it’s simply easier for the nursing manager to make a schedule. It takes less effort to schedule two nurses for a 24 hour period than it takes to schedule three nurses for eight hour shifts.  

Another reason is that having two nurses scheduled in a 24 hour period provides a higher continuity of care. This means fewer issues during hand offs and patients (and their families) may feel more comfortable with their nursing staff since they spend a longer time getting to know them.  

While not common, it can be possible to find nursing shifts that are limited to just eight hours. Most travel nurse assignments are 36 or 48 hours, but it’s possible to find some that are five, eight hour days instead. If this schedule is important to you, talk with your Triage recruiter to see if it’s a possibility, but also get it in writing in your contract. 

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