The Truth of 12-Hour Shifts as A UK Nurse: The Pros and Cons

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This is a guest post by Catherine Stewart.

When people hear of a nurse’s 12-hour shift that only takes up 3 days of their work week, they respond with surprise and envy at the flexibility of a nurse’s schedule.

The truth about 12-hour shifts as a nurse is that they’re no easy task. If you’re reading this considering taking up a nursing job or pursuing it as a career, we’re not trying to scare you off. We’re here to highlight some of the pros and cons of working a (literal) half- day shift.

Most regular employees associate half-day shifts with 4 hours or so but, for a nurse, a half-day shift is one that consumes 12 hours, usually days a week.

To give you a bit more insight about the everyday life of a nurse on a 12-hour shift, we’ve listed some of the perks and perils that come with the job.

PRO: Nurses on 12-hour shifts only have to report for duty three times a week.

 Compared to regular, blue-collar workers and nurses on 8-hour shifts, nurses who undertake 12-hour shifts only have to report thrice a week, rather than 4 or 5 times.

This is an obvious perk because rather than having only 2 days of your weekend as your free time, you get to have the flexibility to enjoy 4 days off to spend with your family and friends. You get to be more creative with your schedule until you find your perfect work-life rhythm

Getting to spend a lot of time away from work means that burnout due to your nursing career can be avoided. You’ll be able to strike the balance between your personal life and your work life without losing your sanity in the process.

CON: Nurses’ health may be put at risk.

 There are several factors which can turn the aforementioned perk into a con. The first of which is that due to extended working hours, nurses may fall into the zones of stress faster.

A study from the University of Pennsylvania was able to show that longer shifts, expose nurses to higher chances of burnout. Apart from burnout, this can also lead to an increased rate of job dissatisfaction, which may eventually lead a nurse to hate their job.

A healthy balance between a nurse’s personal and professional life, along with a nourishing work environment is a great way to combat work-related stress.

PRO: Nurses put out more quality work.

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By being on the job for 12 hours (sometimes even more), patient care quality is increased.

The nurse on the 12-hour shift will be able to closely monitor a patient for a longer period of time, rather than having to endorse the patient’s care to the nurse for the next shift. This means that a 12-hour shift nurse can be with the patient from the beginning to the end of his/her treatment.

A nurse who is looking after a patient for that long holds more accountability, which leads to better health care.

CON: Nurses on 12-hour shifts won’t get to see their family.

 Even though 12-hour shifts only mean 3 days of work per week, it also means that those 3 days will consist of just you and the hospital.

Funny enough, here’s an unspoken thing about a 12-hour shift: it doesn’t just take up 12 hours of your day.

All the usual preparations before and after your shift account to another additional 2 hours. This means that on a normal workday, you’ll only have 10 hours to yourself.

On those 3 work days, you probably won’t get to see much of other people since they’ll probably be sleeping by the time you get home, or they’ll be at work or in school.

This is why it’s important to create a schedule that will help you make the most out of your 4 free days. Schedule in bonding moments with your friends and family to make up for the time you’ve been working.

PRO: Less time is wasted on daily commute or traffic.

 By packing a week’s work in 3 days, it means that you won’t be wasting as much time travelling to and from work.

This is a very efficient, time-saving set up especially for those whose homes aren’t 10 minutes away from the hospital. You won’t need to waste an hour or so on the train when you could’ve been using those hours to catch up with friends or get some much needed Zzz’s.

CON: You’ll need to look after your mental and emotional health.

 Devoting your waking hours to work for over 8 hours can put your mental health at risk. You will inevitably experience work exhaustion from the 9th hour onwards if you don’t know how to take little breaks in between of work.

This is where you should look after yourself. Don’t sacrifice human needs like eating, peeing, or taking a moment to sit down. It’s good to perform above and beyond the call of duty at work, but not when you’re sacrificing your own health to care for others’.

 PRO: You get to develop hobbies and interests outside of nursing.

The common problem amongst adults, once they enter the labour force, is that they no longer have time to put in the interests that they cultivated when they were younger.

With only 3 days of work, you’ll be able to manage your time and devote days for things that are important to you. This means that you can take up a new sport or hone your artistic skills.

This is also a very good way to combat burnout and work exhaustion as you’ll have a long time away from work.

CON: It takes a lot of time and experience to adapt to a 12-hour shift.

 Being plunged into a longer working hour is not easy, especially if it’s your first.

If you’re someone who’s been used to working shorter hours in the hospital, it will take a lot of time before you adjust to your new set-up.

You may not be able to make full use of the benefits we stated above until you find the perfect schedule that is flexible enough for you and your work-life balance.

There will be days when you’ll regret taking on a 12-hour shift, and you’ll have to go through a lot of sleepy shifts. There’s no time frame for how long it will take for you to adjust, and it’s all up to you.

Pros and cons aside, a 12-hour shift is not for everyone. You have to try it out to see if it works for you.

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While the majority of nurses and hospitals are leaning towards a 12-hour shift, not all are willing to pay the price for a flexible work schedule.

A 12-hour shift translates to a very long day, and not all are up to the task of devoting 3 days of their week in exchange for 4 days off work.

It all depends on whether or not you think that the cons will be worth the pros. Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues about how they were able to adjust to get a more in-depth and personal insight.

For what it’s worth, a lot of nurses are diehard believers of the 12-hour shift. It does present a heavyweight list of perks, the best of which is work flexibility. After all, what’s a 36-hour shift compared to 96 hours or more of personal time?

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4 thoughts on “The Truth of 12-Hour Shifts as A UK Nurse: The Pros and Cons

  1. This was a great write up for someone wanting to pursue this career, but also for us to understand a nurses schedule. Many other careers, high tech for example, lawyers, etc. find employees working 6-7 days a week, 12 hour days. Americans are known to be workaholics. I’ve always valued the European 6 week time off schedule and they really do take time off for mini-vacations throughout the year. In America you can work for a company for years and still only get 2 weeks off. That’s why many of the young people, with the internet, are now trying to work remotely. Good work/life balance. Well written and informative article. My girlfriend is a nurse, they DO work hard!

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