How Many Hours & Days Can a Nurse Work Straight?

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We’ve discussed already how many hours does a registered nurse work. In this article, we’re taking a different angle. We’re going to answer two questions:

  1. How many hours can a nurse work straight?
  2. How many days can a nurse work straight?

So, how many hours can a nurse work straight? The max number of hours a nurse can work in a row is usually 16 hours. Though many facilities will limit nurses to working no more than 12 hours straight.

How many days can a nurse work in row? As a nurse, you can work as many days in a row as you would like. Though you should factor in provider fatigue into the equation.

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How Many Hours Can a Nurse Work in a Row?

As a nurse, I’ve worked all sorts of different hours. I’ve probably have worked anywhere from shifts lasting a couple of hours all the way to 16-hour shifts.

From my experience the usual hours nurses work are:

  • 4-hour shifts
  • 8-hour shifts
  • 10-hour shifts
  • 12-hour shifts
  • 16-hour shifts

The more common shifts are probably the 8 and 12-hour shifts. Many places don’t allow you to work 16-hour shifts so you might not see too many of that.

4-hour shifts are probably rarer except for facilities where you might work 12-hour shifts but they mandate you have to get 40 hours a week (or 80 hours in a two week period).

So for example, if you work three 12-hour shifts in a week that’s only 36 hours so you would need to work another 4-hour shift that week to get your 40 hours for the week. This is an example scenario many Veteran Affairs Hospital nurses have to deal with.

As for 10-hour shifts, I also don’t run into too many of those, though I believe they tend to be popular for clinics.

How Many Days Can a Nurse Work Straight?

This is another question that I’ve seen nurses handle differently based on their own preference and their specialty area.

I’ll give you a couple of scenarios based on 8, 12, and 16-hour shifts. 

8-hour shifts

Many times these are clinic nurses who work these shifts, though you’ll see inpatient nurses work this shift at times also.

Usually, if you’re working 8-hour shifts you’re probably working 5 days in a row. So maybe a Monday through Friday (assuming you’re not working weekends).

When I worked 8-hour shifts I actually set up my schedule so I was working 10 days in a row, and then have 4 days off (I was working inpatient mental health nursing at that time).

These times are looking at a normal schedule for a full-time job. If you throw in a part-time job then it’s possible for you to literally work 7 days week regardless of shift hours or specialty.

12-Hour Shifts

I don’t have any data to back this up but I think this is probably the more popular shift hours nurses work.

At 12-hour shifts, nurses will typically work 3 days in a row. 

Most of the time nurses who are working 12-hour shifts are inpatient nurses where of course the hospital runs 24/7.

Because the hospital runs 24/7 I’ve seen nurses get very creative with this.

For example, when I was in clinicals for nursing school there was a night shift nurse who worked 6 shifts in a row (12-hour shifts) and was off for 8 days in a row.

16-Hour Shifts

16-hour shifts are a little bit trickier. If you’re sticking with the usual 36 hour work week then you’re probably only working twice a week.

The nurses that I’ve seen working 16-hour shifts a week are usually working 2-3 days in a row. 

The Pros of Stacking Your Hours and Shifts Together

I’m a huge fan of stacking hours and shifts. There are several reasons I’m a fan of this but I’m going to focus on a couple of them.

  1. Less driving I have to do.
    • I’m not a fan of driving so the more I stack my days and hours the less driving I have to do.
  2. I get more things done.
    • I don’t know about you but the days where I’m off the whole day I tend to get more things done. After working, even if it’s just 8 hours I tend to not want to do a whole lot.
  3. Easier to go to school.
    • Going to school is so much easier when your shift hours and days are stacked. You would have days that you’re just focused on work and days where you’re just focused on going to school and studying.
  4. You don’t have to use as much paid leave.
    • Remember when I gave examples of nurses that were stacking their days off. Depending on what kind of trip you’re taking you either don’t have to use as much leave or you don’t have to use any leave at all.

The Downside of Working Too Many Hours and Shifts in a Row

There are several downsides when you work too many shifts in a row. Here are just a couple:

  1. Harder for family life.
    • Different nurses might feel differently based on their family situation, but for my situation, it was definitely harder.

Here’s an example if you have young kids and you work 12-hour shifts than you could have a situation where you leave before you see them and by the time you get back they’re already in bed.

  1. Fatigue
    • Provider fatigue is a big deal and could lead to poor patient outcome and care (source).

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions related to “how many hours a nurse can work in a row?”

Can nurses work 16-hour shifts?

Yes, depending on facility policy some nurses are allowed to work 16-hour shifts.

Final Thoughts

There you go, here’s your answer to how many hours and days nurses can work in a row. Let us know what your thoughts are in the comment section below.

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