The 12-hour workday is nothing new. For decades, nurses have worked long hours. In many hospitals, staffing guidelines routinely offer 12-hour shifts as the norm, with some nurses working even 16 hours or more. Actually, nurses who work longer days may appropriate having more days off in between shifts, but they can face some challenges as well. As a nurse, it is time to reconsider whether 12-hour shifts are ideal for ensuring safe patient care and helping nurses achieve a life-work balance. This is one of the greatest debate in healthcare today. Although nurses express satisfaction with 12-hour shifts, working long hours is associated with more nurse burnout, a greater intention to leave their positions and decreased patient satisfaction.
Historically, nurses have worked various shifts. Traditional 8-hour shifts for hospital nurses are becoming a thing of the past. Today, 75% of hospital nurses work 12-hour shift. Nurses’ work schedules are based on the needs of the patient population. Research showed that more than 80% of the nurses are satisfied with scheduling practices at their hospital, but little is known about how such long hours working affect the care that patients receive or the well-being of nurses. Furthermore, nurses working long shifts experience burnout and job dissatisfaction and intend to leave the job. Therefore, this issue impacts negatively patient, nurses, and even healthcare organizations. In fact, a study conducted by the National Institute of Nursing Research found that nurses who work long shifts are 2.5 times more prone to burnout and job dissatisfaction compared to nurses who work 8 or 9 hours.
Eventually, longer shifts can increase fatigue and interfere with normal sleep patterns. In fact, nurses working 12 hours need to stay awake for up to 17 hours or more. Moreover, nurses who work longer hours might suffer physically from it. For example, there is an increased risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders, diabetes, and other serious health issues. In addition, long shifts also impact on the quality of the care they provide to patients. Because the high intensity of the job and long shifts lead to fatigue, nurses are more likely to make mistakes leading to harm patient care.
Besides that, some nurses prefer 12-hour working shifts. As a result, instead of having to work 5 days a week, nurses who work 12-hour shifts generally work a 3-day schedule. This allows them to maintain a better work-life balance, which is especially important when raising a family.
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