As I sit here on my couch blogging next to my sleeping puppy, I am tired. I have spent my morning removing Christmas lights from my front porch, dragging the 11 foot fake Christmas tree from my living room to the basement, running errands, lifting weights at the gym and babysitting my 4 week-old nephew. Is is now 3pm and I haven’t even been to work yet today. I still have an eight hour shift in the ER left to look forward to. Although working a mix of nights, days and occasional 12 hours shifts allows me a flexible schedule, how will it ultimately affect my happiness?
A recent study, reportedly the first of it’s kind, evaluated the impact of rotating shifts and shift length on nurse burnout and patient satisfaction. The study indicates (not surprisingly) that for nurses, working extended hours is associated with increased job dissatisfaction, burnout and patient dissatisfaction. Burnout, job dissatisfaction and intent to leave one’s job were two and a half times more likely for nurses working shifts of 10 hours or longer. Patient dissatisfaction levels also increased in proportion to shift length.
I think a lot of nurses and nurse practitioners like the fact that with our careers we can choose to work longer shifts. Rationally, life is better if you can cram an entire work-week into three days, right? For two years I worked three 12-hour days a week. I loved the feeling of waking up more days than not without having to go to work. I assumed having more days off each week was making me happier.
But then, like many other nurse practitioners I began to experience a bit of burnout. I began to dread going to work. My days off were spent adjusting from a night-shift sleeping schedule back to day and exhaustion crept in. Although working only three days a week seemed like a time-saver, I was using my time ineffectively and missing out on social events due to my long hours. Or, I was showing up for events with friends feeling like a zombie after what ended up being a near 13 hour work day. Finally, I had to make a change (I may or may not have cried in the medical director’s office…I promise it was only because I was so tired!). I switched to 8 hour work days.
I can personally vouch for the results of this research study. Working shorter shifts I am happier, healthier and live a more balanced life. Although I may not have as many days off every week, I am present in life rather than essentially sleep-walking. Working shorter hours has seriously revolutionized my attitude towards my career. I can also assure you my patients have noticed a difference.
Are you burned out? Working 12 hour shifts? Rotating shifts? My advice: do a trial of 8 hour work days- it might change your life!