Patient care is an around-the-clock job. Perhaps no one is more aware of this than night-shift nurses, the indispensible after-dark caregivers who are just beginning their workdays around the time most people are settling into bed.
Many new nurses start their careers on the night shift for the simple reason that it’s the only shift available. Others prefer the untraditional schedule, finding that it best suits their family needs. Then there are those who favor working nights simply for the experience itself.
As one such nurse remarked in a recent Medscape Nurses article: “Even the worst night shift is better than a day shift.”
Most hospitals offer an hourly pay increase to nurses who work nights. This financial incentive can be viewed as an appeasement to caregivers reluctant to work nights. But for nurses who prefer third-shift, the extra money is icing on the cake.
Some even manage to use the shift differential as an opportunity to adopt a part-time schedule on a full-time salary. For nurses with young children, the nontraditional schedule, increased pay and subsequent ability to go part-time is especially appealing.
While every hospital and unit is different, most nurses find the night shift to be quieter than the day shift. Hospital administrators are gone, physician rounds cease, and phone calls slow.
“On nights, you can escape the frantic disorganization of the day,” said one nurse.
What remains is the rewarding opportunity to actually practice nursing.
“There’s more time to focus care on the patient’s needs instead of the needs of extended family members, who are often at home sleeping during the night shift,” explained Tricia Hunter, RN.
Hunter is a night-shift nurse veteran, having worked the shift for more than 33 years.
Nurses also report increased cooperation among the typically smaller night-shift staffs.
“There are fewer people working the night shift,” explained Hunter, “so we work more closely with each other. Here at the premier cardiac hospital in central Washington, we’re able to triage patients with chest pain, take vitals, insert an IV line, draw blood and get the results of their EKG back in less than 10 minutes.”
For new nurses especially, the quieter atmosphere and enhanced camaraderie offer an ideal opportunity for on-the-job training.
“I was able to learn a tremendous amount from my seasoned team of co-workers who helped mentor me in procedures, patient assessments, documentation, and all the ins and outs of complicated cancer care,” remembered Jill Weberding, MPH, BSN, RN, OCN. “Working nights provided a great opportunity to sharpen my skills and really develop my professional confidence.”
While natural night-owls may flourish on the night shift, many nurses have a difficult time adjusting to the schedule. Sleeping during the day and staying alert all night is difficult and can take a toll on a person’s health and well-being, not to mention social life.
But if you can adjust, nocturnal living can have its advantages outside of work, too.
“Grocery shopping,” said Hunter, considering the perks of night living. “There are no checkout lines between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.”
Night nurses are sometimes called the “forgotten” nurses—that is, if anyone remembers to call them at all. To combat this professional invisibility, Colleen Claffey, MSN, RN-C, CEN, CPEN, recommended night-shift nurses get involved on unit practice councils, in professional groups, and even in continuing education activities, to increase visibility and demonstrate professionalism.
“As a night worker, take steps to optimize your career growth,” she coached. “Go out of your way to share information and educate others about shift-work differences… We all work in the ‘real world’ no matter what our shift.”