Are 12-hour shifts safe?Written by AMNT Guest 3/28/2011 12:41:19 PM
Welcome to guest
blogger Donna Cardillo!
Are 12-hour shifts
Dona Cardillo, MA, RN
12-hour shifts have become the norm in hospitals and most
nurses love them. One can work 3 days and have 4 days off, there is one less
major shift change to contend with, and patients have fewer names and faces to
get acclimated to in a 24-hour period. It all makes sense on the surface.
But is working 12 consecutive hours in a fast-paced, high
stress, physically and mentally demanding environment a good idea? Does it support
the clear judgment, quick thinking and reflexes, and life and death decisions
that we must make in the acute care setting?
I know a few nurses who do three 12-hour shifts a week, at
least two of the shifts on two consecutive days. Some nurses do three
consecutive 12s. Factor in commuting time, shift transition (it can sometimes
take 1-2 extra hours to actually finish up), time to get ready for work—never
mind making time (if at all) for family or self and they’re lucky to get 5-6
hours of sleep if that. Compound that with the fact that many nurses no longer
take meal breaks or even short breaks during their shift to rest and refresh
because they believe they don’t have the time or they don’t make the time. This
is a recipe for disaster.
A recent survey commissioned by CareerBuilders shows that
nurses are one of the top ten professionals who depend on coffee to get through
their workday. Is it acceptable to have to ply ourselves with stimulants to do
our jobs? Caffeine is an addictive substance. It stays in our system for up to
10 hours and can cause insomnia or can reduce the effectiveness of the precious
little sleep we get.
I once heard from a nurse who was irate when a new director
of nursing came to her facility and ended the practice of working two 16-hour
shifts on Saturday and Sunday. I don’t even want to think about that nurse’s
ability to do her job well, especially on the second day. Fortunately, the
practice was stopped against protest but I know it still exists in other
In addition to the issue of our fitness to practice while on
duty, what about our degree of alertness while driving to and from work while
working 12-hour shifts? Then there’s the issue of the long-term wear and tear
on our physical and mental health. We are not machines and we are not
indestructible. Yet we are pushing ourselves, and those who work for us, beyond
the limit of what humans are capable of short-term and long-term.
Many studies have been done over the years to support my
assertions and my concerns. A recent study done by the University of Maryland
concludes that the odds of making patient errors increases three-fold when
nurses work 12-hour vs. 8.5-hour shifts. But
how many studies need to be done, how many patient errors need to be made, how many
nurses need to get sick, injured, burnt out or worse before we consider
alternative work schedules? The health and safety of both nurses and patients
hangs in the balance.
Donna Wilk Cardillo is the Career Guru for Nurses and “Dear Donna” columnist for Nursing Spectrum, NurseWeek, and www.nurse.com. Donna is also an ‘Expert’ Blogger at DoctorOz.com. She is author of The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses, Your 1st Year as a Nurse, and A Daybook for Beginning Nurses. Ms. Cardillo is creator of the Career Alternatives for Nurses® seminar and home-study program. You can reach her at www.dcardillo.com.
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