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:


  • 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, which is great when you have days off when everyone else is at work!  You have to be comfortable doing things by yourself – having an afternoon off to read or cook or whatever is great, but not everyone is okay with it.
  • 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.


  • 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.  While some assignments are challenging, 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?


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.

12 Miles on a Tuesday and Nurses Day Off

One of the things that I’ve struggled with related to working and running is that my work schedule really doesn’t fit in with a traditional marathon training schedule.  Prior to working 12 hour shifts, I used to love long run Sundays.  I thrive on a schedule, both in my running life and in my normal life (although aren’t they one in the same?  Deep thoughts here…), so it’s hard when your schedule changes every single week.  Especially when it changes so much that just shifting around one run isn’t quite possible.

When you work Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, when do you do your long run?  On the early side and do it on Thursday?  On the late side and do it on Tuesday?  Does it really even matter?  My legs hip felt a little cranky after last weekend’s 11 miler, so I decided to play it safe and move the long run to Tuesday.  I think running long on tired legs helps train you for the later miles of a marathon, and if you don’t have tired legs after four 12 hour shifts, then I don’t know what will make you tired.  (Be a nurse!  You’re a super human!)

It’s been a bit hot and humid here in NYC, so although all I wanted to do was sleep in on Tuesday, I also wanted to beat the heat.  (And I had plans to go to the pool, so talk about motivation!)  I woke up at 6:30, got excited that I had thirty minutes left until my alarm went off at 7, somehow missed my alarm (oops?), and woke up at 7:30.  Could be worse.  Some coffee + banana + PB + Nuun, and out the door we go.  As I said, my hip has felt cranky, and ever increasing the distance of the long run makes me nervous that one day it’ll give out.  So I stayed close-ish to home, heading to Central Park.  I also appreciate the shade and abundant water fountains in the park.

I threw on my heart rate monitor for some data collection.  A few factors were working against me in the heart rate department – I’m sure I was dehydrated since I never drink enough at work, and my physiology knowledge says that would increase my heart rate.  And the heat makes you work harder, so that would increase your heart rate too, right?  (This is all based on my logic, not on science I have actually referenced.  But it’s probably accurate?)  So while I kept an eye on my heart rate, I didn’t follow it too closely for pacing purposes.  See also:  I like to just RUN.  Too much thinking about it takes the fun out of it for me, although I know I should always probably be running slower. 

I did a nice loop of Central Park, feeling the pain of Harlem Hill but enjoying the downhill that immediately follows it.  I cruised down the west side hills and thought about how I was planning to finish the second half of the 12 mile run on the West Side Highway.  IN THE SUN.  No, thank you.  I decided to shorten that portion by repeating the lower loop of Central Park, removing a couple miles from the sun exposure.  It was a little annoying to head crosstown on 72nd St – every stoplight I had to stop at made it a little harder to get started again, but soon enough I made it to the Hudson and the water fountain that awaited me!

Just four miles to go and I could check this run off my list!  Despite the heat and this being my longest run of marathon training so far, I felt really good.  And confident.  Once you lose your confidence, any chance of a good run goes out of the window, and I felt awesome.  Up the hill and away from the river, DONE.  I like you, running.




It’s true, so true.

I quickly showered, grabbed a smoothie with some protein for recovery + hydration, and walked to the east side for a pool day.  John Jay Park on the east side has a public pool that is FREE to go to.  I used to live about two blocks from the pool, and I’m sad that I didn’t realize it’s glory until I moved two miles away.  Oops.  I met some nurses there and we soaked up the sun for a couple hours.  The pool was slightly cool and felt super refreshing both in the hot sun and for my post-long run legs.  (Who needs a true ice bath?)  The glory of being off on a Tuesday is how the pool really isn’t that crowded – sure, we got splashed by a few nearby kiddos, but life is pretty good.  After a few hours, we headed out for a late lunch where we decided that we needed some pedicures in our lives.  I actually had remnants of my last pedicure – from April.  I’m so bad at being a girl, ha.  The nail ladies were very confused about four girls being off on a Tuesday afternoon and kept asking us if we were teachers (or college students – ha!).  Nope, perks of nursing life.


Toes on toes.

I went with an orange color – brightens up my day and is good for this final month of summer.  The good news that despite all my running, my feet really don’t suffer much.  I’ve never had black toenails, and I think I’ve only lost one or two in my entire running career.  (It’s been 17 years, so I think that’s fairly impressive.)  All in all, a successful and relaxing day off! 

TELL ME: Do you do your long run 1-2 minutes slower than goal marathon pace?  I realize I run all my runs at about the same pace (ooooooops?), and I mean, I would LOVE goal marathon pace to be 7:10-ish, but I don’t think we’re there (yet).    It’s so hard to get myself to slow down.

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