Night Nursing: Is it For You?
It takes a special type of person to tackle the night shift in any profession, but as a nurse, that calling seems somehow more challenging. Conceivably, it is because the work of a nurse requires looking after several patients at once, often those with serious illnesses and frequently very needy during those daunting hours of the night. Nurses elect to work at night for a number of reasons: more pay, available day hours to pursue academic or recreational activities or to tend to a second job during the day, like parenting.
With a strained schedule and competing demands, night nursing requires people who are organized and strong-minded. Because “spontaneity” is rarely an activity practiced by most nurses who hold down duties at work and at home; learning to allocate and delegate are two useful concepts for night shifters to master.
Joyce Johnson, a single mom, is a nurse who holds down two shifts at two different hospitals. As a recent graduate of a master’s program, she is well acquainted with working odd hours to accommodate a demanding lifestyle. With a six-night, 12-hour work schedule, Johnson has no choice but to streamline her varied household tasks and personal interests. “It was always important for me to be around my kids while they were growing up,” Johnson said. “I was first their mother before I was everyone else’s nurse and I wanted them to know that.”
Before heading to her 11:00 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, the busy mom was home to help her children with homework, feed them dinner and put them to bed. She returned home in time to get them ready for school, and the routine resumed. But as an RN working the night shift in the intensive care unit, Johnson feels that her work, although taxing, provides her with a great deal of satisfaction and personal reward.
Dr. Ron Travis, a southern California anesthesiologist who frequently works on cases at night said that in his experience, the nurses who work at night are often meticulous, ambitious and motivated. “Surgeries that are conducted during the night are often emergent,” he said, “and a physician always appreciates a nurse who’s clever and on the ball, especially during those late or early hours.”
Nurses who work on the floor as opposed to a maternity ward, emergency room or an ICU can have an entirely different work experience. Barbara Spiegel’s years as a nurse in Nashville, Tennessee taught her that the most strenuous aspect of night nursing is fighting fatigue. “When a nurse is tired, judgment skills are not as sharp,” she said. “Those who are accustomed to working the night shift are use to it, but nurses who float or are asked to work a double shift can really suffer.”
Spiegel said the night shift also lacks practical amenities that the day crew enjoys. For instance, the cafeteria is usually closed at night and unless a nurse brings in a packaged meal, the only options are usually a scarcely stocked vending machine. Also, with the exception of teaching hospitals that generally have an army of interns and residents walking the halls, private hospital nurses can experience loneliness and boredom at night. “Although a day shift can get hectic, sometimes a nurse feels like a babysitter when patients are sleeping and there is not a barrage of demands,” Spiegel explained. “Since most treatments are done during the day, aside from requests for sleeping pills, pain meds or the need to take vital signs, a night shift can be rather quiet and lackluster.”
Many nurses elect to work the night shift because of the unique advantages. Banking, grocery shopping and scheduling appointments during regular business hours is more convenient and there is no need to take time off of work to get these chores accomplished. Also, a nurse can be more productive at the hospital at night because interruptions by family members are rare and the doctors are not around to give orders and demands like they can during the day.
Whether a night shift offers a nurse an excessive workload in an acute care setting, or monotonous work on a less critical floor, the schedule preference is one that most caregivers make to accommodate their diverse and personal needs. Night nursing is just as laudable as day nursing, but whichever shift one chooses, it’s important to keep in mind that a nurse should be well rested and well equipped for the job. In so doing, the nurse will experience the most noteworthy benefit of his or her profession: the sense of satisfaction and personal reward for helping patients who desperately rely on them both night and day.