When you work for a nursing staffing agency, you have the freedom to make a lot of decisions. A big decision is deciding when to work. There are many options for nursing shifts, ranging from four hours to 12, day and night. Most health care professionals (HCP) choose to work one particular type of shift in a specialty that they’re comfortable with, while others love variety.
Although what you do during shifts varies based on the facility and the specialty, you’ll find some general expectations for many shifts. If you’re looking at different nursing shifts and wondering what to expect if you pick up one you normally don’t work, here’s what you might find.
Health care facilities that are open 24 hours throughout the year are inpatient or long-term care facilities, so like hospitals and nursing homes. Because patients are there all the time for multiple weeks, months, or even years, a lot of shifts will follow similar patterns.
Day shifts cover breakfast and lunch for facilities with three shifts (day, swing, and night), or all three meals for facilities with a two-shift format. Day shifts have a lot going on, because all your patients are awake, and so are other HCPs involved with their care. With that busyness comes some aspects to think about:
- Because a lot is going in, be expected to get interrupted often.
- Everyone’s awake, so you’ll be constantly talking to people throughout the entire shift.
- If you’re a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse, breakfast is often the time many patients will take many of their medications.
- Day shifts tend to see many new patient intakes and new orders as well as patient discharges.
- You’re much more likely to see doctor’s visits as well as visits from patients’ friends and families.
But it’s certainly not all bad. There are many pros for working day shift, including:
- Administrators normally work during the day, so there are more staff onsite in case of problems, and it’s easier to ask questions and get help with problems.
- Because patients are awake, you get to know them.
- You won’t disrupt your sleep cycle for your days off, and if you have kids, you can be at work while they’re at school.
- You’ll learn the facility quickly and other staff quickly, and it’s much easier to find opportunities to learn new skills or information.
- If you work in a place with the three-shift format, then even though you have to get to work super early, you also get to leave early in the afternoon to enjoy the rest of your day.
Swing shifts for facilities with the three-shift schedule start mid-afternoon and end sometime at night before midnight, usually, around 10 p.m. Patients and residents usually have just finished lunch, so you’re taking over in the lull between lunch and dinner. Swing shift’s job is to finish up the day and get the facility and patients ready for the night shift to take over.
For swing shifts at 24-hour facilities, you can expect the following:
- If you’re a nurse scheduled to do med passes, you’ll see the most activity right before dinner and then again after dinner. Some patients take most of their medications right before they go to bed.
- Administrators are normally on their way home during swing shift, so you’ll likely see half a shift with them there and the last half with them gone.
- You’ll likely still see visitors, mostly patients’ friends, and families.
- Staff are still busy with the dinner rush and then all the activity getting patients ready for bed.
- You normally won’t get off past midnight, depending on the facility, so you can sleep in and get home without disrupting your sleep schedule too much.
In many 24-hour facilities, night shift, or graveyard shift, is often one of the calmer shifts. Patients are asleep, visiting hours are over, and deliveries are more spaced out or rarely happen at all. But it can also be the most chaotic because administrators are not on-site and can be difficult to get a hold of, which can be a problem in emergencies.
If you’re not used to the night shift, it’s also difficult to stay awake all shift, especially because it can be so quiet. And it’ll mess with your sleep schedule the next few days. You also often need to wake up patients to give them medications or check on them, and they’re not always happy about that.
On the other hand, night shifts sometimes offer differential pay — an extra amount of pay that you can get when you work certain shifts, like night shifts. And because everyone’s asleep, you can more or less do your own thing without many interruptions.
Many HCPs like to work the 12-hour shifts because you only have to work a few days a week to hit your regular 40-hour workweek. These shifts divide the day in half, so there only need to be two nurses to work one assignment a day. They’re great for continuity of care, as it means patients just get two nurses a day instead of three.
Day shifts will start sometime in the morning, usually between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., and end sometime in the evening at the 12-hour mark, and night shifts will take the entire night.
Med Pass Shift
Some facilities offer shorter shifts at four or six hours for med pass. LPNs and RNs who are familiar with the med pass process and want to work shorter shifts are the best for these shifts. They’re scheduled during the day or swing shift hours when patients typically have the majority of their medications scheduled.
Some shifts are for facilities or services that aren’t 24/7. These could be home health services, outpatient clinics, or testing services. Most of these shifts will be during the day and range from a few hours for a home health visit to more normal hours for outpatient services.
If you aren’t sure what type of shift you’d like, the best way to find out is to work a few and see. Clipboard Health offers you the technology and personal support you need to find temp nursing shifts in your area, so you can get your own first-hand experience with different types of shifts and facilities and find out what works best for you. Sign up today to find shifts in your area.