Why this nurse couple both work the night shift
Working the night shift might not seem the most desirable of assignments for a nurse, especially to those who consider a nocturnal existence inconvenient or unnatural. But for Joseph and Christina Uy, the decision to work the night shift at their respective hospitals has been the best choice for raising their family.
The idea to enter the nursing profession—and to work nights—was inspired by Joseph’s aunt and uncle, who have been working as night-shift nurses since the 1980s. Joseph recalls that watching and listening to them helped instill a passion for helping others. By following their example, he and his wife have been able to work in a field that gives both of them great satisfaction while constructing a lifestyle that allows them to meet their children’s needs.
To make it work, they’ve made a commitment to being healthy—getting plenty of rest, exercising as a family and eating well. And one other thing: “Ultimately, it’s all about teamwork,” says Joseph. He and Christina must coordinate all of their time and effort, and that requires a special closeness. They share the same level of love and commitment for their family as well as their work. The couple met in nursing school in the Philippines and were married there in 1999. “She was my first girlfriend,” Joseph says with a shy smile. “He promised me I would be the last,” Christina adds. They moved to the United States in 2002, and are raising two children: Matthew, five, and Andrea, nine.
Before joining Kaiser, Joseph worked for six years at West Hills Hospital, where Christina now works two nights a week in med-surg. Like any loving mom, she has photographs of her children at her place of work, in this case taped to the door of her locker in the break room. Colleagues praise Christina for her professionalism and compassion.
Joseph also still works at West Hills on occasion, on a per diem basis. “It’s very rewarding to be a nurse,” he explains. “To see your patients get better or feel better is the most rewarding part for us.” For the past three years, Joseph has worked three to four nights a week—sometimes as Charge Nurse—in the Telemetry Unit at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills. It’s obvious from his bedside manner, and the way his patients perk up when he enters their rooms, that he is respected and appreciated. Lillian DeLillio, a cardiac patient in the Telemetry Unit, lights up when asked about Joseph. “He’s a great nurse! He’s compassionate and always there when you need him.”
Both parents stress how much better the night shift is for being involved with their children’s education. “I like it better than the day shift because you still have time to take care of errands and other things. I’m home when [the kids] get home and can help them with homework,” Christina explains. “At school they have a yearly science project, which is a big part of their grade. Every year we have to prepare for it, create a model and help them put it all together. When parents get home at 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., the libraries are closed and you’re too tired to help.”
Another advantage of the night shift, Joseph explains, is that it’s actually easy to get assignments, mainly due to the sleep factor. “Most nurses prefer the day shift,” he says, “but we’ve gotten used to the odd scheduling, so it’s not so hard for us anymore.” Life for a night-shift nurse is marked by routine, often punctuated with long stretches of inactivity. In the Telemetry Unit, Joseph checks the heart rates of all the patients every four hours, and must be ready to attend to any and all cardiac-related issues. Christina explains that in med-surg, “shift change is the busiest time. Endorsement time is at 7:30, and then at 8:00, we check our patients’ vital signs. At 9:00, we distribute their medications. It slows down around 10:00 p.m., unless new patients are admitted late. The middle hours, 11:00 to 3:00, are usually very quiet. That’s when staff can retire to the break room for rest and coffee. Then at 4:00 a.m., things pick up again: bed baths, checking vital signs again and medications at 6:00 a.m., in preparation for the shift change at 7:00.”
There are areas where working the night shift is inevitably problematic. The couple hasn’t had a regular “date night” for years, Joseph admits. “It’s more often a lunch date on the days we’re both off and the kids are in school.” On those occasions when they’re both home in the evenings together, they’re more likely to watch a movie as a family. They try to work alternate nights as much as possible. When their schedules collide, they leave the kids with Christina’s sister. In spite of their best intentions, however, things don’t always go smoothly, as Christina explains. “Because Joseph’s schedule is so hectic, he sometimes forgets which shift he’s supposed to be on, and which hospital. A couple of times he came to work here at West Hills, only to discover that he wasn’t supposed to work that night after all! He returned home, and the kids were so happy to see him.”
The telephone is an important tool for keeping communication open. For example, Christina explains, her son always wishes his dad were there to put him to bed, so she calls Joseph at work so he can say goodnight to his children. “I try to call after 9:00 when his busiest time is over. Sometimes on the nights when we both have to work and we leave the kids with my sister, I’ll call them around 8:30 to say goodnight.”
The couple has sound advice for other nurses coping with the intense physical demands of working nights and raising children. Joseph runs on a treadmill in their home and has a gym membership that he tries to find time to use. The family also rides their bikes together around the neighborhood.
Keeping work and life together on the night shift also requires getting sufficient rest and keeping sleep schedules under control. “We try to get as much rest as we can, because at work there are nights when it’s really busy,” says Joseph. He says he tries to sleep eight to ten hours in the daytime on his days off. After coming home from the kids’ school in the morning, he watches a little news on television, then tries to sleep from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. “If I wake up early, I’ll go pick up the kids from school. If I worked the night before and then have the next night off, and my wife is working, I’ll pick up the kids and let her catch up on her sleep,” he says. When Joseph and Christina both have the day off and know they’re also going to be able to stay home that evening, they’ve trained their body clocks to become daytime people on demand.
“For this kind of job, teamwork is very important,” Joseph emphasizes once again, with a smile.
The Spring/Summer Issue of Scrubs Magazine, available at a uniform retail store near you, answers the question, “Why do nurses fall in love with one another?” Hurry and get your copy, supplies are limited!
David Blumenkrantz’s professional experience includes an eight-year stint doing documentary work and freelancing in Africa, where he traveled extensively covering a wide variety of relief and development-related social issues. He ran a photography training course for Eritrean freedom fighters in Asmara, and spent more than two years running an information department for the Undugu Society of Kenya, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for street children and the urban poor. Upon his return to the United States in 1994, Blumenkrantz worked for the Los Angeles Times and various other publications as a freelance photojournalist. In 2004 he joined the journalism department faculty at California State University, Northridge, where he teaches documentary journalism and photojournalism.
By David Blumenkrantz