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Staff development on the evening and night shifts: Tips for learning experiences

Briefings on Evidence-Based Staff Development, March 30, 2010

Most staff development departments facilitate publication in professional journals and submission of abstracts for paper and/or poster presentations at conferences and conventions. However, representation from evening and night shift perspectives is historically lacking. The next time you encourage colleagues to publish or present, make sure that you seek out individuals who work evenings and nights.

In-person programming on evenings and nights
What about the physical presence of staff development specialists during evening and night shift hours? As already mentioned, few organizations have the luxury of assigning staff development specialists to specific shifts. A few of our colleagues from large health systems said they have part-time staff development specialists assigned to evenings and/or night shifts. However, these are the exception, and some of these positions are in danger of being eliminated due to budget constraints. So for the purpose of this article, let's address this issue from the perspective of having to rotate staff development specialists to evenings and nights.

The following are some recommendations:

  • Select a regular day of the month (e.g., the first and second Tuesday of the month) to cover evening and/or night shifts, and stick to it. Staff need to know that you will be present during your scheduled times.
  • Consult with evening/night shift supervisors (and staff members when possible) when planning your schedule. They are the best persons to suggest days, times, and desired learning experiences.
  • Select your learning activities carefully. When working these shifts, present need-to-know rather than nice-to-know information.
  • Choose learning experiences that have a skill demonstration component whenever possible. Sitting in a classroom at 2 a.m. is not conducive to learning, but participating in an active, hands-on learning experience will be.
  • Some of our colleagues have met with success when they set up a skills lab available for multiple hours throughout the evening and night. Examples of what to cover include new procedures, equipment, and competency demonstrations. Staff can drop in when they please. Naturally, if only one staff development specialist is present, he or she cannot teach and evaluate demonstrations. Didactic information can be available as self-learning modules, DVD, or posters. After completing the didactic portion, staff can proceed to the demonstration portion of the learning experience. Don't forget to set up an area for practice prior to the actual demonstration. Most learners will welcome the opportunity for practice.
  • Mock drills, such as mock Joint Commission survey tracers, are also good learning activities. Too often, such drills are limited to the day or early evening portions of shifts. But Joint Commission readiness means being ready 24/7.
  • Avoid learning activities that are sedentary. Again, sitting in a classroom or watching a DVD at 2 a.m. may be more conducive to sleep than to learning.
  • Maintain your enthusiasm. Be a positive advocate for ongoing learning.
  • Consider promoting research projects that focus on evening and night shift patient outcomes. Round-the-clock input is important when investigating patient outcomes.
  • Make sure you gather evidence-based staff development data specific to your activities during evening and night hours. Focus on attendance, knowledge acquisition, and application of knowledge in the work setting. Link your presence on these shifts to positive patient outcomes and improved job performance.

In summary, opportunities for continuing education and professional growth and development must be an around-the-clock process. Establish a system that facilitates staff development presence during the evening and night shift hours. Provide opportunities for mentoring and leadership development.

But most of all, establish an environment for learning from which evidence can be gathered that shows education has a positive effect on patient care, job performance, and organizational effectiveness.


This article was adapted from one that originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Briefings on Evidence-Based Staff Development, an HCPro publication.

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