Some Thoughts on (12 Hour) Shift Work

Sometimes I feel like I’d like to write more about nursing.  I feel like people might be interested.  I spent last weekend at work, and some thoughts about the shift work of nurses crossed my mind.  So, here we go.

When most people hear that I work 12 hour shifts, three days per week, they think it’s awesome.  Usually it goes something like this:  “You ONLY work three days per week?”  (Emphasis generally not mine.)  It certainly has its perks – I’m sitting on my couch on a Wednesday afternoon writing this post.  Compliments of USA Daytime, I have plenty of Law & Order SVU marathons under my belt.  More so than actual marathons, although I don’t know if that’s something to be proud of…

Moving on.

I’ve never worked a job that maintains normal business hours, minus one summer in college where I took a temp job.  I don’t even remember what I did, but it was in an over air conditioned building and people got legitimate smoke breaks.  (Are those still a thing?)  My schedule as a nurse is both envious and terrible, depending which way you look at it.  These are certainly all relative, as I always feel a bit sorry for the resident that is on for twelve 12+ hour days in a row.  But, I don’t have a perspective on that, so here’s my take on this glorious nursing life schedule:

Envious

  • I work three days per week!  Actually, it’s 13 shifts in a four week period, so one week has four shifts.  (We all hate those weeks.)  The bonus is that the fourth shift is paid at time and a half, so it’s like required overtime, except I don’t think I can legally call it that.
  • Mondays off.  (Or Tuesdays.  Wednesdays.  Thursdays.  Friday.)  You know when the best time to do anything in public is?  On week days.  Central Park is better.  The beach is better.  EVERY GROCERY STORE KNOWN TO MAN is better.  (Except for when I used to go grocery shopping at 1am – long live 24 hour grocery stores!)  But seriously.  Despite living in a densely populated city, I don’t like large groups of people.  Everything is a little less crowded, and it’s quite nice.
  • I don’t know how the rest of the world makes dentist/doctor/etc appointments.  You know when they ask you what day works for you?  I get to ask, “What day works for YOU?”
  • Long weekends, free of vacation time!  Eric and I went to London for a week earlier this year, and I didn’t use any vacation time.  I just stacked my days so I worked the beginning of one week and the end of the next, and life is good!  Granted, you’re playing schedule-roulette and hoping they don’t move your days around, but sometimes it works out.  It’s also nice that I can stretch one week of “vacation” into two by doing the same thing.
  • Being by myself.  I’ll admit that I quite like spending time by myself.  People can be very overwhelming for me.  It is much more socially acceptable to not interact with others on week days.  On weekends, even I’m like, “Susan, hang out with friends!”
  • Overtime!  I don’t work much overtime (I think I’ve done two shifts the entire time I’ve been at this hospital), but if you work three shifts per week, it definitely leaves a few more days open if you wanted/needed to work overtime.

Terrible

  • Twelve hours (actually, 12.5) is a LONG time.  It’s very tiring, which is no surprise.  If I work three (or more, yikes!) in a row, I need a day to recover.  I rarely leave the unit during a day of work, and often times it’s “I’m going to run downstairs and pick up the food we ordered, be back in five!”  Occasionally the afternoon will slow down and I’ll head outside for some fresh air (especially if I’ve been in rooms without windows all day…), but that’s not the norm.  Also, I don’t really do anything else on the days that I work.  Sometimes we’ll get a drink after work, but I’m most definitely in scrubs and want to go to bed an hour later.
  • Having to know your schedule a few months in advance, but not actually having a confirmed schedule until a few weeks in advance.  We submit our schedule requests about 6-8 weeks in advance.  Then we get our confirmed schedules about 2-4 weeks in advance.  Sometimes you have to play the lottery if you have a trip planned or need/want a random day off – hopefully you get it!  Sometimes you can get a switch, but often times people call out sick.
  • Weekends.  Holidays.  Weekends.  Holidays.  WEEKENDS.  HOLIDAYS.  At my hospital/on my unit, we work “four weekend shifts per month,” which could amount to every other weekend, or something like every Sunday.  The rest of the world likes to do things on weekends, so I miss out on those things.  Also, it’s almost football season.  I love football, but it’s hard to watch games when you work for 50% of them.  (Can we get a weekend differential?  PLEASE.)  And holidays.  We also work just about every other holiday – some being required whereas who really cares about Columbus Day other than we happen to get time and a half?  Do you worry about working on Thanksgiving or Christmas?  Will you have enough time off around the holidays to even travel to see your family?  If I only get two days off, I can’t fly to Chicago to even make it worth celebrating the holiday.  (I will say that holidays aren’t so bad once you’re at work.  No one is at the hospital until they’re “essential staff,” and we usually have a potluck.  And did I mention time and a half?)
  • Having a “regular” schedule is rough.  Sometimes I find something I’d like to do, a group I’d like to join (hello, running team?), or a class I’d like to take (improv comedy, still thinking about you…).  Doing something every Thursday for eight weeks is kind of tough when you figure in other plans and such.  It’s much harder than one would think given we work three shifts per week.  Trust me.
  • Since this is a running, it’s really hard to keep a normal, smart training schedule with a random schedule.  When do you do a long run when you work every other weekend?  Move it earlier?  Move it later?  Do you do speed work one day and then your long run the next, just because that’s what you have off?  I still have no idea.

Things I’m Unsure About

  • Work-life balance.  My work-life balance is balanced in that when I work, I work, and when I don’t, I don’t.  That’s the nice part about nursing.  The bad part is that when I work, it’s all I do.  (Maybe I’m lazy.)  I can’t run on that day.  I don’t want to do laundry.  I’m not cooking a meal when I get home at 8:30pm.
  • Continuity of care.  Although I have patients who I really don’t want to work with for more than one day at a time, continuity of care really does make a difference.  If I “know” a patient, I’m better at catching changes from previous assessments/interactions.  (Often times, we’ll ask other nurses, “Was this how it was when you had room 30?  Is this new?”)  There are fewer shift changes with 12 hour shifts vs. 8 hour shifts, but not being on a schedule really mixes things up.
  • Sleeping habits.  I’m not a morning person, so getting up before 6am to get to work on the days that I work is a little rough.  On my days off, I can sleep in – which if you do the math, I get more days to sleep past 6am than days that I have to wake up.  I do wonder if I’d do better if I woke up at the same time on more days, although I certainly don’t want to wake up at 6am on all my days off.  (Maybe I should…)

To sum it up…

I’m not sure which category wins out.  Twelve hour day shifts are definitely much, much better than working twelve hour nights and eight hour evenings (3pm-11:30pm), both of which I have worked before.  I now know why nurses don’t leave their units after getting to day shift!  (I waited four years, if anyone is counting.  Other units move quicker and you can get to days within 1-2 years.)  Although I dream of greener grass at a job that doesn’t work weekends and holidays, I’m not sure I’d be ready to move to a job that is five days per week.  I see the green grass in terms of possibly having a better running schedule and a better social schedule on some levels.  The grass looks at a little browner at losing complete days to myself or having a little less flexibility for traveling.  (And I love to travel.)

Nurses:  What shift do you work?  What has been your favorite so far?
People with more “normal” hours:  Is the grass really greener?  Would you trade for more days off?

Do you want to read about nursing?  Any particular you’d like me to discuss?

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Just a few things to note:

  • I recognize that there are nursing positions where you don’t have to work weekends or holidays, and these can even be three 12 hour shifts or 4 10 hour shifts.  Often these are places like cath lab, endo, maybe PACU.  I do like the ICU so I’ll stay there for now!
  • I also highly, highly recognize that many people work twelve hour days Monday-Friday, then maybe even on weekends.  I’m lucky in that nursing shiftwork ends when I leave the hospital.
  • On that note, there are certainly other careers that deal with these same problems.

Summer Running Favorites

One of my favorite things about living in NYC is the ability to walk to work.  It is so nice to not have to deal with public transportation (or traffic, I suppose) on my way to and from work.  Going crosstown in New York is much more time-consuming than going north and south, as it only takes a little bit longer to walk as it does to take the bus.  Plus, it’s free!  The downside to this is walking through the elements – both the hot and the cold.  The cold was a little painful, as it was dark when I left for work and I bundled up quite a bit.  The heat, on the other hand, is much better, especially since it’s light when I walk home.  The worst part about walking in the summer is the SWEAT.  I carry a back pack, and the tshirt I wear to work always has a huge sweat mark on the back by the time I get to work.

The bonus here is that I change into scrubs when I get to work, so I’m nice and dry!  However, on Friday, I definitely was over being a sweaty mess on the way to work and was wishing for it to be a little cooler.  I got my wish on Saturday, as the it was only 70 and the humidity seemed to plummet!  I wished I wasn’t working so I could enjoy a “cool” run, but no such luck.  By Sunday, the humidity had come back, and by today, it was back in the 80’s.  Alright summer, you can hold on for a little bit longer.

Although I’d take the heat over the cold any day of the week (or any month of the year – who wants to move to San Diego with me??), running in the heat definitely takes some adjusting.  However, there are definitely some favorite things I’ve used to get myself through summer running.  This is also key because I’m NOT a morning person and often don’t start running until 10 or 11am, oops.  New York seems to be more about the humidity than high temperatures (although those 90 degree days beg to differ), so maybe the time of day doesn’t matter as much.  But it’s still hot, and here are some of my favorites for summer running.

Oiselle’s Flyte Short

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I love short shorts, especially in the summer.  The Flyte short has a two inch inseam that stays put for me.  Yes, I definitely have a Flyte short tan line,  but I’m okay with that.  Although I have an entire drawer full of running shorts, I find myself wearing my two pairs of Flyte shorts over and over again.  (They don’t smell, I promise……….or maybe they do.  Another reason to run alone…)  These shorts help me feel cool due to the shortness and how light they are.  Highly recommended.

Brooks Versatile Lite Tank

Image result for brooks versatile lite tank

I actually bought this tank in March and wasn’t sure how much I liked it.  It was very flowy, while I tend to like my running clothes to fit a little tighter.  However, this tank is great for keeping you cool in the heat!  It’s a super light material that wicks away the sweat without sticking to you.  I just did a search to potentially buy another, and it’s apparently on sale and on it’s way out!  Check it out on 6pm if you want one of your own – it’s where I found the most variety in sizes and colors.

Brooks (Run Happy) Visor

Keeping the sun out of my eyes helps to keep my face relaxed, which is really helpful when running.  No one wants to squint for miles!  This visor also absorbs some sweat off my forehead, so I’m not dripping all over the place.  I’ve also become much more savvy about protecting my skin, so wearing a visor keeps the sun off my face without having to shove my ponytail through the back of a hat.  I like the “run happy” part because it reminds me to keep running fun!  (I rotate this visor with a Nuun visor that I own.  It’s from Headsweats and is also a favorite.)

Nuun

Speaking of Nuun, Nuun is making quite an appearance this summer.  I’m definitely sweating more and need smarter hydration.  My favorite flavors at the moment include lemon lime, lemonade, and cherry limeade.  Deeeeeelicious.

Water Fountains

This is a GLORIOUS GLORIOUS sight when running.  This is a Central Park water fountain.  (Many of the west side water fountains look like this also.)  I’m a lazy runner and don’t necessarily enjoy carrying a water bottle with me.  I have no problem stopping my run for a few seconds to get a drink of water.  Many of my runs have been planned with the location of these water fountains in mind, and it is always a great day in New York when someone announces that the water fountains have been turned on.  It’s a sad day when I found out they’ve been turned off…

Keeping it slow

I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a slave to my Garmin.  I love having the data, but the data also gets to me.  Why am I running slow?  Am I slow?  Is the heat slowing me down?  I should push harder even though I don’t really feel like I can.  However, this time I’ve been paying more attention to effort and keeping the effort easy.  I’m not doing speed work and not necessarily trying to set any records this time around – just trying to stay not-injured!  Therefore, slower-ish is the name of the game and that’s much easier to do when it’s pushing 90.  Plus, the numbers on my watch don’t always reflect the effort being given, especially in the heat.

Apparently I’m a pretty simple person…

Well, that about sums it up!  Light clothing, keeping the sun out of my eyes, and hydration!  Mind blowing stuff, I KNOW.  Running really isn’t that complicated, right?  I will admit that I used to run in $1 socks from Target, so I have graduated to wearing running wicking socks year-round.  Big steps here, my friends.

What are your summer running must-haves?  Or are you ready to transition to fall?  Just remember, after fall comes winter…

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