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A Day in the Life – What to Expect During a Nursing Shift

what to expect nursing shiftSince patients in healthcare facilities need around-the-clock care, nurses in such settings usually work in rotating shifts covering all 24 hours. They may work nights, holidays, and weekends, or be on call. Nurses working in outpatient facilities that don’t offer 24-hour care usually work regular hours.

Surveys indicate that 70 percent of nurses work 12-hour shifts for three days and get 4 days off. Many nurses actually prefer these shifts compared to 8-hour shifts with fewer days off, plus patients don’t have to familiarize themselves with too many faces within a 24-hour period.

Nature of the Work

Working 12 consecutive hours in a high-stress, fast-paced, mentally and physically demanding environment, sometimes on two or three consecutive days can be extremely exhausting, especially when you factor in another 1-2 hours in time to prepare for work, commuting time, and shift transition (finishing up and handing over).

On top of that, many nurses have to skip their meal breaks, and rarely get the time to take even short breaks during their shifts – to rest and refresh, because they simply don’t have the time. That said, there is no typical day in a nurse’s life, considering they have to be prepared for emergencies, changes, and the craziness that make up a nursing shift, though they follow a certain routine during shifts.

What to Expect on the Job

1. Pre-shift ritual – Nurses usually get to their workplace before their shift starts to review their assignment and examine the history of the ending shift on PC. This helps them to better compose themselves as they prepare to take care of their patients in the coming hours. The report they receive from the nurse ending her shift helps them get important details about the patients.

2. The nurse then goes around introducing herself to the patients on her assignment while performing preliminary assessments, taking into consideration their main complaint.

3. Every shift has a med pass that can take quite a bit of time depending on the number of patients on assignment. It helps to check in on patients, ensure they’re stable, and get them the medication they need for that part of the day.

4. After passing meds, the nurse starts charting on the assessment findings, as well as any emergencies that happened during the shift. It is challenging at first, but gets easier as you learn the job.

5. The rest of the shift involves doing whatever occurs when it arises as you take care of your patient, and may include imaging tests, physical therapy, call lights, emergencies, and new orders from doctors.

6. At the end of your shift, you prepare a report informing the incoming nurse of events that took place during the shift so you can get them up to speed with the patients. Taking good notes on the assessment data and emergencies arising during your shift can help you prepare a better report of events that took place in the past 8-12 hours. In some cases, you may need to take some time after your shift is over to complete extra charting or attend to some other problems you’re responsible for.

But here’s the kicker: as daunting as working as a nurse may seem, nurses are often happy and extremely satisfied with their position!

Don’t know where to start? Marian College offers a vocational nursing program in Los Angeles and Van Nuys (2 campuses), which serves as a great starting point to your nursing career.

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