*Official post released on 12/9/2020
Throughout my nursing career thus far, I have worked both on day shift and night shift. Having officially endured what each shift has to offer – good or bad – I feel like I can share some of the pros and cons I’ve made sure to note. I think there are marked benefits to either shift, especially as it pertains to where you are in your career and personal life. In the context of this article, we’ll discuss each shift as I know them to be: 0700 to 1900 or 1900 to 0700. I’m going to separate this article into the pros and cons for day shift first, followed by the pros and cons of night shift. Hopefully, this will give you some insight into what each shift has to offer and whether or not it might be for you personally. I promise I’ll try to keep my own biases out of the evaluation!
Day Shift 0700-1900
On the dayshift, one of the most notable differences is the increased access to and availability of resources. Not only are your resources amplified, physicians are also available to teach and provide explanations about their decision making processes. This can enhance your overall understanding of the patient’s plan of care and the treatment of their disease process, which is something that typically doesn’t happen on night shift. The presence of so many different healthcare providers also allows for enhanced interdisciplinary collaboration and networking.
In addition to these benefits, the shift itself tends to be much more fast paced which helps the time pass quickly. Part of this is due to the demands from other disciplines, patient needs throughout the day, and any scheduled (or emergent) studies that may need to be performed. Sometimes these aspects of day shift can provide its nurses with a little more action, excitement, and diversified skills utilization. If you’re CRNA school bound, this fact can be an invaluable advantage. For instance, in my most recent day shift, we extubated a patient…a process I never got to fully participate in from pre-extubation, extubation, to post-extubation while on night shift. It was a neat evaluation to be involved in for my patient and the success from that situation let me leave that evening on a different kind of high. Now, perhaps the most obvious benefit of day shift, is the minimal disruption it has to your sleep schedule and bodily norms, routine, and relationships. This shift truly makes maintaining non-medical relationships so much easier, because let’s face it, the risks and time commitments involved with being a nurse already place enough strain on our relationships.
However, some of the pros of day shift can also be its cons. For example, this shift can be extremely chaotic. At any given time, there can labs drawn, studies to transport the patient to, transfers to different units, discharges, etc. Certain departments will only perform routine studies during day shift hours, reserving STAT studies for the night shift. It was on a much less frequent basis that I would transport patients to and from studies at nighttime. Moreover, some facilities even have transport teams that assist HCPs with going to and from studies during the day but may not offer this perk at night. Because of this chaos, it can be difficult to find appropriate timing to take a break, regroup, hydrate, and nourish your body.
Another of the more prominent disadvantages of day shift lies with the fact that EVERYONE wants something from you. The patient (if alert) will likely call more, family call more often for updates, different disciplines page or text you, and physicians can be demanding during rounds at times. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed. You are one of the sole coordinators in strategizing and planning care for the patient among all the involved HCPs. It is for this reason that day shift may favor a nurse with at least 6 months or so of experience, because having an established nursing routine is definitely a key advantage in this situation. Lastly, if you’re trying to get a certification or take classes while working day shift, it will likely be a little more difficult to get in that solid study time. Moreover, after a demanding shift at work, it’s common to not have much energy or motivation to get tasks done after a shift. These are definitely aspects to consider before committing to day shift.
Night Shift 1900-0700
Now, let’s turn over to the dark side! Just kidding….kind of. I think the night shift is the easiest shift to critique because there are so many polarized views about it. We’ll look at the benefits of night shift first. On the nursing side of things, this shift tends to be a little slower paced. Notice how I say “tends to be.” When I worked night shift, I often felt like I was able to spend more quality time with my patients as well as get to know their true condition better. Most facilities perform their hygiene activities and bed baths at night. The information you can gather about your patient’s hemodynamic and systemic status during a bed bath is incredibly useful and doesn’t always happen as intimately during the day shift. I also personally believe that this fact forces you to work more closely with and depend on your night shift coworkers a little more, which can be good or bad depending on the situation.
In terms of personal life, the night shift can offer a few benefits as well. If you don’t have kids, or even if you do, and want to work the weekend shifts, most facilities will offer both a night shift and weekend shift differential. These differentials make night shift that much more lucrative. Working these shifts also leaves your weekdays open for errands and spending time with family. There is also usually some downtime during the shift between the hours of 0100 and 0400, which can prove particularly useful for studying and advancing your career. This was a HUGE factor in how I was able to get my CCRN, CMC, and pass my GRE all in less than 6 months’ timeframe.
Now for the downside of night shift… This shift requires quite a bit of an adjustment for your body, to your sleep schedule, overall routine, and relationships. The toll it takes on your body to stay up overnight, especially if you switch to day shift mode when you aren’t working like I did, and the time for recovery can have a negative effect on your relationships with family, friends, and significant others. The key here is to realistically set expectations for the important people in your life. It can also be extremely easy to fall into unhealthy habits in terms of food, exercise (or lack thereof), and maintaining your own health appointments. You have to make time for yourself and consciously make better health and lifestyle decisions to combat this complacency and level of comfort your body craves at night.
In terms of nursing, there are fewer resources at your disposal during the middle of the night and even more so on weekend nights. You have to be able to assume the role of different specialties, in some situations, until they can arrive on the unit. This means you may need to have a better understanding of ventilators, RT equipment and protocols, draw labs, maintain and trouble shoot different equipment like dialysis machines, etc. This, of course, will also depend on your facility and their overall trauma level and access to resources at night. Some facilities do have providers that work the night shift as well and cover down for day shift providers, which would definitely ameliorate this disadvantage. One of my last points to note is that 2-4 am drag. Those two or three hours of the night always seemed to last forever in my opinion. If this bothers you too, I’d suggest giving yourself something to do or study during that time and stay near your patient’s room or their ECG monitor so you don’t miss anything pertinent to their condition.
Well, that’s it for this week’s comparison of day shift and night shift! Hopefully this gave you all some insight before committing to a specific shift or helped give you peace of mind when deciding whether or not to change shifts. If you’ve made it this far, leave a comment below with which shift you work and what your favorite and least favorite things are about THAT shift. Stay tuned for next week’s breakdown on how I typically approach my nursing routine for each shift! Until next time, happy studying!