Today is a special day for me because it marks three years that I’ve been working as an RN. It is simply amazing to think of all of the things I’ve learned & experienced in just three years. It feels like just yesterday I was that super-anxious new grad nurse, so excited to learn but so afraid to try so many new things. Now I’m a charge nurse & preceptor; my, how things have changed!!
Three years ago I was also absolutely PETRIFIED to start night shift. I was sure I’d never sleep again & that my whole life was basically ending. I didn’t fall in love with night shift immediately, though I never hated it as much as I thought I would. After six months or so at my first nursing job, I started rotating shifts so I could experience day shift as well & eventually went to straight day shifts. However, when we moved to NC two summers ago, night shift was all that was available so I took it. At first I told my manager I wanted to switch to day shift ASAP but after a while I changed my mind. I found that the night shift routine had grown on me & for right now I’m not even thinking about going “back” to day shift any time soon. With all of the negative things associated with night shift, I thought it would be fun to compile a list of all the reasons why night shift is actually AWESOME.
1. This is a generalization for sure, but I have found that IN GENERAL night shift nurses are the most fun to work with because they tend to be more laid-back & relaxed. For someone like me who has her fair share of anxiety issues, it’s great to work with people who are more relaxed because that helps combat my own anxious tendencies. I think part of the reason night shift nurses tend to be more relaxed is because the doctors are not quite as available to us, so we have learned to handle situations on our own. This isn’t to say we don’t keep the doctors informed about what’s going on with our patients. It’s just that we realize that every time our patient has a BP of 180/90 it isn’t the end of the world & if the doctor is busy & doesn’t call us back for an hour or more, it’s ok. If you work day shift, please don’t be offended by what I’m saying here. As I said, this is a GENERALIZATION & it probably has more to do with the way the shift itself flows than the actual people who are working it.
2. For someone like me who is mildly claustrophobic & despises crowds, day shift can be a little challenging because it is a CONSTANT CROWD. A lot of the people who make up this crowd are tremendously helpful & often at nights we wish we had those folks around. If your patient needs to leave the floor for a test any later than say 9:00 p.m., guess whose job it is to take them to the test (& possibly stay there to monitor them, depending on the test): yours! There is no transport at night. No PT/OT to help get the heavy or difficult-to-move patients out of bed. No case manager to call when your patient’s wife is refusing the oxygen that is absolutely vital for him to go home. No wound care nurse to assist with the crazy complicated dressing that you suddenly have to change at midnight when it gets soiled for various & sundry reasons. No IV team to help with the impossible-stick patient who needs two different IV antibiotics, IV fluids, & K/MG replacement. Basically there are a ton of great resources that simply aren’t available at night. This isn’t to say we can’t provide the same level of care. It’s just that as a night shift nurse you’re required to be extremely resourceful & figure out a lot of things yourself. The upside though is that for someone like me who gets anxious in crowds, it’s really nice to feel like we “own the hospital” at night. We definitely interact with other depts & certainly with patients’ families, but night shift is just not the same constant crowd, & for a socially anxious person like me, that is wonderful.
3. As I discussed above, night shift has a lot fewer ancillary depts to help the nursing staff which can definitely be challenging at times. However, another upside to this is that night shift nurses of necessity build really great teamwork. It’s not that day shift nurses can’t or don’t help each other. They definitely do. But on nights it’s just the bedside nurses running the show, for the most part. Because we are less distracted by the various other depts constantly coming in & out of the rooms, we are better able to sense who’s struggling & step up to help each other, often without even being asked. Nursing is definitely a team effort & on nights that is especially true. Additionally, having great teamwork I believe builds greater job satisfaction which for me is definitely an added bonus.
4. Financially night shift is clearly the better option. Night shift is hard on the body & mind without a doubt so there’s a reason we get paid more. Of course the trouble is once you get used to that extra money, you don’t want to leave it.
5. You will definitely sacrifice sleep at times, but if you can learn not to sleep all day on your days off (which has never been a problem for me because I am not a night owl by nature), you can have a lot more “free time” to catch up on housework, doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, & just life in general. When I worked day shift I realized that I was almost as tired as when I worked nights & I felt like I had a lot less time to get things done outside of work. And I was making less money!
6. Because there are fewer ancillary depts going in & out of the rooms & less chance of patients leaving the unit for tests & procedures, it is considerably more likely that you will have time to actually TALK TO YOUR PATIENTS with fewer interruptions on night shift. Trust me, my phone still rings way more than I wish it did & inevitably that seems to happen when I’m starting an IV or having a crucial conversation with a patient, but in general I do feel that I have more time to get to know my patients on night shift. Sometimes this happens at 0200 when they can’t sleep & just need someone to listen to them. I do think night shift nurses are less likely to be remembered by patients (at least our names) because hopefully they do sleep for at least part of our shift, but I also know that being there for a patient in the middle of the night when they are tired, lonely, & afraid can be a truly rewarding experience.
7. It is true that it is very easy to gain weight on night shift. (There have even been research studies showing all of the health dangers of night shift. They’re very depressing so I try not to read them!) I’ll confess that I gained about ten lbs my first year as a nurse, but at last half that time I was working day shift so maybe it wasn’t totally night shift’s fault. Anyway, I managed to lose all the weight & more, & I’ve kept it off for almost two years now, all of which has been while working night shift. The upside to this is that when you do learn to manage your weight on night shift, you will feel like an absolute rock star for proving all the statistics wrong!
8. There is a certain level of constant fatigue that accompanies working night shift. Actually I think it might just accompany being a nurse in general. (Or maybe just being an ADULT!) Anyway, for me that background level of fatigue is actually a good thing because believe it or not, it calms my brain a little bit. I’ve spoken to my therapist about this & she says it’s actually quite logical. For someone like me whose mind is constantly GOING, GOING, GOING like the Energizer Bunny, having a certain level of background fatigue can slow the “wheels” down just enough so that I can actually focus better & function optimally. It sounds totally backwards I know. But I swear it is true for me.
9. As I’ve mentioned previously, there are a lot less people around on nights. One of the positives to this is that night shift nurses can (& do) talk about anything & everything. This leads to some seriously hilarious conversations that are probably not fit to post here. 😉 But trust me when I say we have a lot of fun. Of course nurses of necessity have a very twisted sense of humor so our idea of what is funny is often a bit “off” anyway.
10. As I mentioned at the beginning, I DREADED night shift. I had serious anxiety about it for MONTHS before I even graduated because I knew as a new grad nurse it was inevitable. However, realizing that I can not only handle working nights but actually ENJOY it has brought me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Furthermore, it has reinforced to me that often the things we dread in life can actually be blessings in disguise. I guess what I’m trying to say is, never say never. I never thought I’d be happy working as a night shift nurse but here I am doing it & loving it. 🙂