If you are on this page right now, chances are you have typed in your browser, “how many hours a week does a nurse work?” or similar questions. If so, then you are at the right place because what we are going to talk about in this article will serve as a great source of answer to your question.
Nursing is regarded as a noble profession. This is because nurses spend most of their time saving lives. They are more or less like “small God” on this planet. But one frustrating thing is common among nurses: they always complain of being weary due to the nature of their job and the time spent doing it.
Laymen, on the other hand, question the complaint of nurses. They even ask if the main duty of a nurse is not all about administering injections. To satisfy their curiosity, laymen even go the extent of finding out how many hours a nurse works in a week.
There is no straight forward answer to the question “how many hours a week does a nurse work?” This is because there are different specialties in the nursing profession, each with its corresponding working hours per day. This means that the number of hours a registered general nurse works in a week may not be the same as that of a nurse anesthetist or a pediatric nurse.
Honestly speaking, the number of hours nurses work in a shift per day varies depending on the number of staffs and the type of cases in the concerned unit. But generally, all nurses work in 2 different hourly intervals. These include eight-hour shifts and twelve-hour shifts. Some nurses also run sixteen-hour shifts but this is rare.
In many countries, the standard working hours for nurses in a week is 40 in the public sector. In the private sector, that is not the case: you will see nurses working for 48 hours a week. Sometimes, in the public health facilities where there is shortage of staffs and work overload, a nurse may end up working 48 hours or more in a week.
For example, I worked 8 hours a day for 5 days in a week before the pandemic. But some of our staffs resigned during the corona virus pandemic. This resulted in shortage of staffs whiles cases numbered up every single day. As a result I ended up working twelve hours a day for four days in a week. Sometimes, during off days one could not just sit down in the house knowing that colleagues were under pressure in the ward and that they needed support.
Types of Nurse’s Shifts / Schedules
Usually, many hospitals and healthcare facilities work 24/7. In this case, three or two sets of nurses, respectively, take turns to work after every 8 hours or 12 hours.
8 Hour Shifts
In 8 hour shifts, within 24 hours three sets of nurses are involved. These three take turns every 8 hours. The first set may start work at 7 a.m. and handover to the second set at 3 p.m. The second set continues from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. when they also handover to the third set of nurses who continue till the next day 7 a.m. for the first set to come and take over from them.
In 8 hour shifts, nurses work for 5 days in a week which amount to 40 hours in a week. But this is not the same in every country. For example, in some countries like United Arab Emirates, nurses work 8 hours a day for 6 days in a week.
12 Hour Shifts
In 12 hour shifts, however, only two sets of nurses are involved. The first set may start work from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and the second set of nurses take over from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. the next day.
The Pros And Cons Of The Shifts
There is the good and the bad sides of running these 8 hour and 12 hour shifts.
The Pros/Advantages1. More Off Days To Relax
In situations where a nurse works for 12 hours a day for 4 days in a week, the nurse will have 3 days off. Hence the nurse can have enough time to relax and spend time with his/her family and loved ones.2. Flexibility For Other Activities
The 3 off days that come with 12 hour shifts give room to some nurses to attend school, travel to visit loved ones and have some fun with them. Some nurses also use these long off days to learn new businesses like online business or trading.
The Cons/Problems1. Miss Out On Events
With the 12 hour shift, the nurse will most likely miss out on some events like weddings, parties, children school activities like PTA meetings, etc. He/she will not even be able to use the weekend for anything. Because the nurse will be exhausted, he/she will only go home, sleep, toss and turn in bed, then go back to work again.2. Problem With Taking Care Of Kids
A nurse who has kids and is running night shifts, cannot get the kids to school. She will need a helper. Even those running day shifts would have to wakeup very early to prepare for their kids because they would have to be at work latest by 6: 45 a.m.3. Holidays? No Way!
There is no such thing as holidays when it comes to nursing. A nurse will work on Christmas day, New Year, and Thanksgiving Day. There is no holiday in the hospital. Hospitals don’t close.4. Work Overload And Exhaustion
To be honest, it is very difficult working 12 hours straight with a lot of patients assigned to you. The job is 99% mental job. A nurse will have to meet the needs of a lot of patients one by one. He/she would have to make a plan on how to meet the need of every patient under his/her care as soon as he/she takes over from the previous shift.
The nurse also has to make sure the patients’ meals, dressings and treatments are available and carried out on time correctly. You can’t practice trial and error as lives are being dealt with.
The patient’s entire medication, Medical history, allergies, everyone’s care plan including their respective doctors have to be on the nurse’s fingertips. Worst of all, code blues and deaths may pop-up in the middle of the shift, hence the nurse would have to prepare patients that may pass on during his/her shift to get them ready for the family.
Patients’ education on their disease condition, their surgery, medication and discharge plans all rest on the shoulders of the nurse. All these will suck every energy out of a nurse and he/she will be very exhausted.
Helpful Tips For All Our Nurses1. Prepare very before going to work. Eat good foods to your satisfaction before entering the ward because you may not how your shift will be. 2. Carry some energy drinks along when going to work. 3. Take enough rest during your off days, this is very important.
Frequently Ask Questions
Many folks outside the Nursing profession or those planning to dive into the nursing want to know what happens behind the scenes. As a result they usually some frequently questions. I’ve already addressed some of these questions above but let’s quickly take a look at some them again.
- How do 12 hour shifts work?
As I’ve already explained above, 12 hour shift involve two sets of nurses that rotate each other on duty every 12 hours within 24 hours.
- How long are nurses shifts?
Nurses shifts can be 8 hours long, 12 hours long or 16 hours long. It’s all depends on the protocol of the hospital and the availability of staffs.
- How many hours can a nurse work straight?
A nurse can work eight hours or twelve hours straight. Rarely you will see a nurse working for 16 hours; it’s not common.
- How many hours does a CNA work?
Certified nursing assistants usually 8 hour day for 5 day. This may varies depending on the protocol of the hospital they work.
- How many hours does a nurse practitioner work?
They usually work as “on call” nurse for 24 hours especially in the emergency department. The hour count per week may be 40 or more. That’s if they decided to do overtime.
- When did 12 hour nursing shifts start?
12 hour shifts can start at anytime but usually it start from 7am for morning shifts and 7pm for night shifts.
- Why do nurses work 12 hour shifts?
Sometimes situations such as shortages of nurse may call the need for the available few staffs to run hours like 12 or more just to cover up the shortage. Also, some nurse prefer to work the 12 hour shifts for more off days.
Are you are nurse? What are your experience? I would love to hear from you so leave comments in the comment section below for me.
Do you wish to become a nurse? I will glad to hear from you too. So use the comments section below let’s keep the discussion going on.
Albright McHeals is an empathetic RN with 7 plus years of experience providing excellent quality health care to all types of patients ranging from young and old. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in nursing at KNUST. He worked with Ghana Health Service (GHS) as a staff nurse for 5 years. He currently lives in the United Arab Emirates where he works with Abu Dhabi Health Authority (SEHA) as a member of the COVID-19 response clinicians.