Effects of Shift Length on Nurse Fatigue

Posted by in Fatigue, Nurse

Clearly this topic comes as no surprise to the majority of nurses currently working long laborious 12-hour shifts, however the repercussions of these seemingly ‘normal’ work days goes far beyond what we originally thought. To an outsider (i.e. anyone who is not a nurse) the proposition of working only 3 days a week seems like a dream in conjunction to having the alleged 4 other days off. This fantasy schedule that the majority of society perceives us to have is all but a mirage. Yes, some nurses do only work 3 days a week, but there is so much more that goes into this presumptive ideal ‘work week’ that most are completely oblivious to. An average day at work for a nurse is unlike any other. One shift includes putting in at least 12 solid hours of the most mentally exhausting and physically challenging work that most people couldn’t begin to imagine. In reality, the work day is really more like a 14 hour one when you factor in the time it takes to travel to and from work, chart, and give the oncoming shift report. Moreover, when the 14 hour work day is coupled with the 3 shifts (at minimum) that a nurse is to work per week, on top of making an attempt at having time for family, a personal and a social life-it is no wonder nurse fatigue is on the rise.

Nurse fatigue encompasses more than just the amount of exhaustion the nurse feels when working a long shift, it also transcends into the patient care arena and can have potentially dire consequences. This issue is alarming and is even recognized by the Joint Commission as a Sentinel Event Alert (Joint Commission, 2011). Strong focus is being placed on this issue and has sought the attention of not only the Joint Commission, but also of The Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The rationale behind this growing concern is centered around the premise that nurses who provide direct patient care, and who work longer than an 8-hour shift (yes, I said 8 not 12), have an increased risk of injury and poor decision making that compromises patient safety (Martin, 2015).

With the vast amount of published data and research validating the negative cause and effect relationship between fatigued nurses, shift length and patient care, it is baffling that the ‘standard’ 12-hour shift still exists and continues to be the mainstay for the majority of working nurses.

Source material adapted from Medscape.