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Navigating Nursing Shifts

Dec 11, 2019
The Trusted Team

Nurses know, when you’re on, you’re on. The average 8-hour workday isn’t the same for nurses as it is for everyone else. Throughout the day, you are challenged mentally, physically, and even emotionally. No day is ever the same; frankly, neither is any given week.

Nurses Can Work a Variety of Shift Types

Nurses work a variety of work schedules given their location, unit, or specialty. Many nurses prefer a more typical work week, while others take advantage of the unique hours (i.e. choosing to work three 12-hour shifts and take the remaining four days of the week to recover and focus on other parts of their life - whether that be family, hobbies, or side hustles).

What Are the Most Common Nursing Shifts?

Three 12-Hour Shifts

Commonly known as “three-twelves,” this type of nurse schedule entails working twelve-hour shifts (three days a week for twelve hours each day). These three days can be consecutive or spread out across the week (i.e. working Monday-Wednesday, with Thursday-Sunday off; or working Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday off).

These shifts commonly take the form of both day and night shifts, and run from 7am-7pm. However, some facilities still offer mid-shifts such as 3pm-3am or 11am-11pm.

Pros

We go into detail about the pros of 12-hour shifts in this article, but here’s a quick summary.

  • Enables a more flexible schedule that is incredibly conducive to traveling, especially if you’re a travel nurse looking to explore your local area!
  • Having weekdays off is huge. You can go to your favorite restaurants, cafes, and stores without having to fight the crowds.
  • Commuting three days instead of five can be a gamechanger, especially when you live miles away from work!
  • Productivity and quality of life come in the form of self-care, flexibility, perspective, and balance, largely tying back into the idea of “when you’re on, you’re on, and when you’re off, you’re off.” (For some, this allows for a better work-life balance.)

Cons

  • 12-hour shifts usually end up being somewhere between 12 and 14 hours long, so you’re in for a long day. Three-twelves in a row really takes it out of you, and you can’t expect to be at 100% the fourth day. This can be stressful, and in some cases, lead to burnout.
  • The constant “need” to travel because you can; it can feel like you’re wasting your time off sitting at home; your SO, roommates, or friends might also get frustrated when you suggest extra-long weekend trips week after week!
  • The potential of working weekends can be tough, especially if your SO or friends are busy during the week. Queue the FOMO and scheduling clashes.

Here are some of our favorite products for navigating 12-hour shifts efficiently!

Four 10-Hour Shifts

“Four-tens.” Similarly, these four shifts can occur multiple days in a row, or any other permutation between consecutive and spaced apart.

These shifts commonly take the form of both day and night shifts.

Pros 

  • Not quite as long of a day as 12s, and you still have an “evening.” 
  • If you’re working the typical 7am-5pm shift, you don’t have to worry about the evening med passes, dinner, getting that last set of vital signs; and, if you do need to wrap up your shift, or it runs over, you aren’t getting out as late.
  • Sometimes you can work a 11am-7pm shift, which gives you a free morning!
  • You get a three-day “weekend,” or three zero days. 

Cons

  • 10 hours is a still a long day.
  • You’re essentially giving up a full day off for two extra hours off each work day.
  • You can begin your workday mid-shift, which can often entail chaotic handoffs.
  • If you experience more discharges during your shifts, you may have more inbound patients and less patient consistency.

Five 8-Hour Shifts

“Five-eights.” This schedule is the most comparable to a normal Monday-Friday work week, although the five shifts are not constrained to Monday-Friday and can take place on Saturday and/or Sunday as well.

These shifts most commonly take the form of day shifts and are more often than not clinic settings (but can be inpatient, too).

Pros

  • You will experience more manageable patient load consistency.
  • You feel like a real human! This is the most “normal” schedule, so it’s the most comparable to a more typical 5-day work week. 

Cons

  • You only get two days off a week.
  • There’s a good chance you’ll be working weekends.
  • You’re also less likely to get overtime pay given the consistency of your schedule. 
  • You also have a longer work week (especially compared to many units that are moving more and more to a three-twelves schedule).
  • It can also be more difficult to plan vacation time (both short and long-term).
  • It can also be easier to swap shifts last-minute when working 3x12s or 4x10s.  
  • It's not uncommon for nurses who normally work 3x12s to say, “I'll never be able to work five days a week again!"
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The typical nurse schedule is likely a mix of all of the above from position to position, or even month to month. While there are plenty of obvious pros and cons to the three nursing shift types above, everyone finds a shift that works best for them. 

For some, it’s three-twelves during the day so that they can spend more time with their kids on the four zero days. For others, it’s four tens at night. You never know what might work best for you until you try! It's not uncommon that a unit you work on may require a rotation or that you move to night shift for a certain period of time. 

On the upside - it's always better to have an understanding of what a typical shift entails for your co-workers who are on the opposite schedule. Nurses are known to be flexible and more often than not, willing to do what it takes to be sure someone is there to care. No matter which shift, know that your patients will be thankful!

If you’re ready to try a different nursing schedule during your next travel nurse assignment, let us help find the right one for you!