12-Hour Nursing Shifts: Pros and Cons For RNs

12-hour nursing shiftsby Sarah Stasik

The 12-hour nursing shift has always had die-hard detractors and loyal fans in the healthcare community. However you feel about the 12-hour shift, it has both pros and cons. 

If you are considering taking on new nursing shift hours, it's always helpful to educate yourself on the advantages and disadvantages to better prepare yourself. 

Below are the pros and cons of 12-hour nursing shifts. 

The Pros and Cons of 12-Hour Nursing Shifts for RNs  

Top Benefits of 12-hour Nursing Shifts 

Circadian, a workforce solutions software company, regularly works with companies in a variety of industries that need to schedule employees across different shifts.  

From a management perspective 12-hour nursing shifts have a lot to offer, including: 

  • Increased continuity. In a hospital, this means nurses are able to stick with their patients longer, perhaps through an entire stay in the case of the ER.
  • Reduced absenteeism. If you work longer shifts, you may be off more days of the week. That means you don't have to take off work to attend appointments.
  • Increased morale. While long nursing shift hours aren't for everyone, the nurses who choose them often like their schedules and may even benefit from compensation differentials.

For some RNs, not having to come in to work four to five days because they work three 12-hour shifts is enough benefit to make the longer hours worth it. 

Nurses who work on high-intensity wards especially find it beneficial to have multiple days away from the environment each week. 

Top Disadvantages of 12-hour Nursing Shifts 

Not everyone agrees that nursing shift hours that extend past a regular workday are wonderful. According to research originally appearing in the Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, 12-hour nursing shifts had some negative consequences, including:

  • Increased mental health issues such as anxiety in RNs
  • Physical ramifications, including sleep issues and musculoskeletal disorders
  • Increased fatigue

Donna Cardillo, MA, RN, is a columnist for American Nurse Today. She tackles the topic of safety related to 12-hour nursing shifts. 

She doesn't believe nurses who work long shifts, especially back to back, remain at the highest possible alertness level, which may impact patient care. Cardillo also points out that nurses who work such shifts may be at risk driving home. 

Whatever you think of 12-hour nursing shifts, Cardillo does make a good point. Nurses who aren't getting enough rest and taking care of themselves aren't good for their patients and may be at risk themselves.  

When working long or late nursing shift hours, take steps to ensure you are staying healthy.

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