10 Pros and Cons of 12-Hour Nursing Shifts

This article is going to talk about the pros and cons of 12-hour nursing shifts.

Because many nurses out there are big fans of those 12-hour nursing shifts (me included), there are some pros and cons you should be aware of before signing up for them.

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Doctors tend to get a lot of the praise in the healthcare setting, but it’s usually the nurses who do the heavy lifting.

Nursing is a wonderful job that provides fulfillment and makes a real difference in people’s lives.

However, before deciding the nursing life is the one for you, consider that most nurses work 12-hour shifts.

If you thought eight hours a day was too much, then you might struggle with tacking four more onto the work day.

It’s not all bad, though; there are definitely some benefits to working a typical nurse’s shift.

Let’s go through a few pros and cons to help you weigh your options.

Pros of 12-Hour Nursing Shifts

Below are some advantages to working 12-hour nursing shifts.

Pro #1: You’ll Have More Days Off

Sure, you’ll work a few long days throughout the week, but you’ll also get four days off instead of the typical two that most people have.

This is great for people who want to work on a side hobby or spend more time with their families.

They’ll be able to be home more often for the kids, and they’ll only have to be away from home three days a week.

Working moms often find that a nursing career allows them to have more harmony between their home and working lives.

Furthermore, since you’re only traveling to work three days a week instead of five, you can save time and money on your commute.

This might sound trivial, but those savings really do add up over time.

The difference is quite noticeable for individuals who work in densely populated cities.

Pro #2: Your Schedule Is Much More Flexible

Speaking of more days off, this grants you greater flexibility in creating your weekly schedule.

In fact, the majority of nurses report being very satisfied with the work-life balance that their job allows them (source).

When you have four days a week off from work, you can plan out more time with your family and friends.

Again, this is great news for those with young kids; they can be a more active presence in their lives.

It’s also a nice perk for those who want to take on a side gig, fulfill a passion project, or just take a mini break or weekend getaway.

In short, those who work 12-hour shifts just three days a week have an easier time scheduling in events and activities rather than waiting for a long holiday or summer vacation.

Moreover, nurses tend to have an easier time choosing their hours and switching shifts with co-workers.

In contrast, individuals with typical 9-5 jobs have fixed hours.

Nurses, on the other hand, can usually choose which days of the week they work and they have more flexibility in swapping working days with a colleague.

Pro #3: You Provide Better Care for Your Patients

At the end of their shifts, nurses need to give the incoming nurse the run-down on their patients.

This can take some time, and no two nurses are going to work exactly the same.

They have different personalities and may prioritize certain things.

The result is a hiccup in the level of care patients receive, ranging from small to significant.

Every time that nurses need to step away from a patient, they’re decreasing their level of care a bit, and that adds up over time.

Consider that a 12-hour shift only requires nurses to exchange reports one time while an eight-hour shift requires three exchanges.

The former means less room for error and perhaps a speedier process for getting the patient well and on his or her way home.

Pro #4: You Might Feel More Available for Your Family

It’s not a guarantee but most of the nurses who work 12-hour shifts three days a week feel as though they have more free time to spend with their families.

This is huge for working moms of young kids because they can often feel as though they’re not giving enough of their time and attention to their little ones.

Consider that with this schedule, it’s possible to have four days out of the week where you don’t have to go to work.

That sounds great for someone without kids as well, but it’s especially crucial for those who are struggling to find that work-life balance.

Add to that the fact that many 12-hour shifts are interchangeable with others so if a nurse is a parent and wants to make sure that he or she gets to a kid’s recital or soccer game, he or she can switch a shift day with another nurse.

This is more difficult to do for those who are on the eight-hour shift.

Pro #5: You Might Save Money

If you have a longer commute to get to work, you could end up scraping some dollars off of your gas bill because you’ll be driving to work less.

This can also be a huge time-saver depending on how long your commute is.

Think about how much time you would save in a typical week if you only had to travel to work three days a week instead of five.

Plus, since most 12-hour shifts require at least some weekend work, your commute will be even shorter on a Saturday or Sunday.

Cons of 12-Hour Nursing Shifts

Below are some of the disadvantages of working 12-hour nursing shifts.

Con #1: Those 12-Hour Days Are Long

On the downside, those 12-hour days can be excruciatingly long.

While most nurses treasure the scheduling flexibility that 12-hour shifts grant them, they also report higher levels of burnout than nurses who work eight hours at a time (source).

If someone tends to get worn down more quickly than others, he or she might want to refrain from taking on such long shifts.

After all, nurse exhaustion is never a good sign for patients.

In fact, nurse burnout can often lead to higher rates of patient dissatisfaction, so it’s definitely something to be aware of.

It’s not uncommon for a nurse to resent his or her long hours and that kind of attitude can become apparent to the patients that he or she works with.

In addition, those 12-hour days are often devoid of self-care and downtime, resulting in a total crash by the end of the day.

Con #2: You’re More Susceptible to Negative Health Outcomes

Yes, lots of nurses report high levels of satisfaction with their work flexibility, but it comes at a high cost.

Not only is it exhausting to work 12 hours straight but the nursing field isn’t exactly an easy-breezy career.

Nurses work tirelessly to assist patients and doctors to bring people back to health.

Unfortunately, this often means that nurses ignore their own needs and end up with their own sets of health issues.

Among those are backaches, sore feet, headaches, and physical and mental exhaustion.

What’s more, nurses rarely get time to sit down or take a proper sit-down break.

This makes them poor models for self-care and healthy habits, which is ironic considering that they’re assisting others in getting back to health.

Even so, nurses can quickly become exhausted,sleep-deprived, and so weak that they give in to unhealthy behaviors such as snacking on junk food.

Related: 10 Best Healthy Snacks for Nurses

Con #3: Exhaustion Can Lead to More Mistakes

While nurses might not have as much handoff error from communicating with multiple colleagues, they themselves could commit mistakes on the job.

All that burnout and fatigue can add up quickly, resulting in sluggishness and a higher chance of committing simple errors (source).

In medicine, even small mistakes can lead to grave outcomes, which is why it’s important for nurses to be on the ball.

The problem is, who’s at the top of his or her game for 12 hours straight?

For nurses, it’s certainly a fine line between job satisfaction and total burnout.

Different individuals will handle the job in their own unique ways, but they can’t ignore these potential pitfalls.

Con #4: Your Days Off Are Major Recovery Days

Let’s face it; nursing is no easy feat and working 12 hours with minimal breaks means that any downtime is probably going to be spent resting.

Whereas people who work the usual eight-hour day can get accustomed to this schedule, going at it for 12 hours can really take a toll on a person.

It’s not uncommon for these nurses to need two or more days to finally feel relaxed and fresh again.

By then, it’s almost time to go back to work. What’s the point of having all of those days off if you’re just going to spend them in bed?

Con #5: Burnout

Need we say more?

The nursing field is hectic enough but add in those long working hours, and it’s not hard for fatigue to set in.

Burnout is bad for us physically, mentally, and emotionally and it can hurt our jobs and relationships.

While at work, it’s easier to make small mistakes that could endanger the patient.

At home, burnout can lead to irritability and anxiety, which isn’t a good look.

In terms of the effects of burnout on the body, it can lead to all kinds of aches and pains, muscle tension, headaches, digestive issues, and more.

Even though nurses are supposed to be the picture of good health, their job can pull them toward the opposite side of the spectrum.

Frequently Asked Question

How many shifts a week do nurses work?

Man nurses if they’re working 12 hour shifts will work 3 shifts a week for a total of 36 hours.

For many nurses this is enough to classify them as full time employee even though they aren’t technically hitting 40 hour weeks.

Something to keep in mind is that some facilities do require nurses to get at least 40 hours a week (or 80 hours in a 2 week pay period).

If this is the case the nurse may have to work three 12-hour shifts and one 4-hour shift a week. Or six 12-hour shifts and one 8-hour shift in a 2-week period.

Do nurses get paid overtime for 12 hour shifts?

You may or may not get paid overtime. It all depends on the number of hours you’ve worked over 40 hours for the week.

For example If you only work three 12-hour shifts a week than no because you’re under 40 hours a week.

If you work four 12-hour shifts in a week than you’ll be paid overtime for 8 hours. Because you’re 8 hours over 40 for the week.

Do nurses always work 12 hour shifts?

Nope, and that’s the beauty of the nursing profession. Depending on your facility you’ll have more options. For example I’ve seen 4-, 8-, 12-, and 16-hour nursing shifts worked.

Conclusion

picture of a white wall and a chair

While personally I’m a fan of 12-hour nursing shifts I understand it’s not for everyone.

Ultimately you need to decide what’s best for you and your family.

For some it might mean they start out working a certain nursing shift and then later down the road life or family circumstances dictate they need to change.

Regardless of which one make sure you understand the pros and cons of that nursing shift.

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