Back-to-back shift blues

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I don’t know about your nursing school, but for ours, we don’t often get the full experience of a 12 hour shift. Even if the class is scheduled from 7-7:30, factoring in post-conference, and lunch, and on-campus skills practice that deducts clinical hours, and the fact that the school can only allot so much time per unit, your 12 hour shift gets reduced to 7am to maybe 5:30pm. That’s the longest shift I’ve worked with at school, and that’s including a 1 1/2 hour post-conference.

Some classes are split into two days, 6 hours and 6 hours, and some are consecutive, but I feel like we’re not truly getting the 12 hour shift experience that most nurses deal with until we start our precepting in our last quarter. So when I started working at the hospital as a CNA, boy was I in for a surprise. It took quite a while to adjust to the 12 hours of non-stop running around, lifting, turning, bathing patients. The way my schedule works as a student is that I work every other weekend, two days in a row. Of course this is nothing compared to the 3-4 (or more) shifts per week that the nurses take on. I feel like this is just training for that (very good training).

It seems like after my Saturday shift (day 1), I am truly exhausted. Despite getting to bed at a decent hour, I don’t usually sleep well the night before work (or clinical for that matter).  Our jobs are so full of the unexpected, that my mind is always racing with the “what if there’s a code tomorrow?” or “what if I have to float to a different unit.” So by the end of the first day I have to stay on the phone with my fiancée so he can keep me awake while I am driving home. I get home, clean up, change into PJs and have some dinner and I am out like a light, inevitably sleeping MUCH better than the night before.

Sunday is always a smoother day, and I get a second wind around 4:00pm that lasts me all the way home. When I get home I usually have enough energy to talk about my weekend at work, find out what I missed, and even get to enjoy one night of the weekend.  But my-oh-my does Sunday’s energy wear off Monday morning.  At least this quarter, I have Monday’s off, so while it’s my day to get school work done, it’s also my day to sleep in. And after a double 12, it seems like no amount of sleep is going to cure my aches. My feet are throbbing (I think my clunky white nursing shoes need to get upgraded to a better model!) and my hips are sore from walking. My shoulders even crack when I get out of bed and stretch. None of this feels any better when being (loudly) woken up by your gardener’s lawn mower at 7:30 in the morning… and even coffee takes longer to kick in.

School does not prepare us for this essential part of nursing life. We need to learn from the beginning how to deal, and how to prepare ourselves, and keep our body’s healthy while working these insanely long, demanding, and busy hours. Anyone have any tips for curing the back-to-back shift blues?

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Ani Burr, RN

I'm a brand new, full-fledged, fresh-out-of-school RN! And better yet, I landed the job of my dreams working with children. I love what I do, and while everyday on the job is a new (and sometimes scary) experience, I'm taking it all in - absorbing everything I can about this amazing profession we all fell in love with.

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3 Responses to Back-to-back shift blues

  1. Nicole

    Currently I’m attending school for nursing and just started my first CNA job. Boy, oh boy, was I in for a surprise. I felt so unprepared – the shifts, patients, management….. Things are getting better though. I finally found time today to take a lunch break. Lol!

  2. Tracy, RN

    Basically my only advice is if Nursing is your game, you better get over it and used to it. i work 3-4 12 hour shifts that usually end up being 14 hour shifts. There is no way to prepare your body for all the mind and bodily stress you WILL endure as a Nurse. But if you LOVE NURSING you will eventually take it on as a part of your life and miss it when your not in the chaotic lifestyle the floor provides. Its kind of weird, but I get bored when I am not stressed to the max, strange, maybe, normal, absolutely!

  3. Evan RN, BSN

    The ONLY class in my ENTIRE BSN nursing program I felt was “worth it” was the preceptorship- where we are assigned a nurse at a hospital and we work their shift for 10 shifts and that is the class…no nursing teacher to oversee us…just a nurse on a floor that we are assigned to follow. We had to post comments about our experiences on a blog, but THAT WAS IT!! There was no “post-conference” afterwards (which I had in every clinical class up until that point and felt they were useless!)…Everything you need to know, your preceptor or preceptor’s co-workers are going to explain to you during that 12 hour shift…there is no need for a “post-conference”!!!