Once again, a coworker called in sick, and once again, you’ve been asked—no, make that required—to stay into the next shift. You’ve already worked 12 hours, you haven’t seen your kids all day and you have guests coming in tomorrow. Staying late was not in your plans.
First, take a deep breath. Responding in haste isn’t going to do you—or anybody else—any good.
Check with your state board of nursing. Fifteen states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and West Virginia) have restrictions on mandatory overtime, so ask what’s allowed. While covering for a sick coworker doesn’t usually fall under the allowable uses of mandatory overtime, you may be required to stay in case of an emergency or a disaster.
Then speak calmly to your nurse manager or supervisor. Draw attention to the law, if applicable, and express your concerns. Don’t dwell on your kids or house guests; instead, focus on your desire to provide top-quality care. Numerous studies have shown that fatigued nurses are more likely to make mistakes.
If you’re not protected by law, you may need to stay; leaving could constitute patient abandonment. Do your best, then document the circumstances of your overtime. If mandatory overtime is a consistent problem on your unit, you may need to reach out to risk management or nursing administration for additional support.