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Linking Medical Errors, Nurses' 12-Hour Shifts

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, October 5, 2010

I can't imagine working a 12-hour day as a nurse. Nursing is a professional job, requiring college education and high-level thinking. But it's also manual labor. Nurses are on their feet all day, running everywhere, lifting patients, changing dressings, inserting IVs, and all the other direct patient care responsibilities.

It's no wonder that nurses are fatigued. Shifts include mountains of paperwork, difficult patients and families, and hundreds of tasks. Somewhere in all this nurses make time to connect with their patients, expressing compassion and empathy. Let's not forget that 12-hour shifts also frequently run into overtime, when the nightmare shift means they have to stay late to complete their charting.

Over the next few years, more studies will be published that show the danger of nurse fatigue. What if hospitals preempted the public outcry and started reducing 12-hour shifts now? Let's focus on shifts that are best for patients, nurses, and hospitals alike. This means ending rigidity and allowing greater flexibility. 

Senior leadership can embrace creative staffing and scheduling options that increase satisfaction for nurses and improve efficiency. For example:

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39 comments on "Linking Medical Errors, Nurses' 12-Hour Shifts"

Sandra Sumers (10/28/2013 at 6:36 PM)
All I can say is, when my daughter tells me she fell asleep driving on the way home from her 7PM to 7AM shift, I'm suing somebody if she gets in an accident. She has no time with her kids. She has to sleep the day before she works and recover the next day. That's a full 48 hours she has no time with her family since their hours are different than hers. There is a two year waiting list to get on the day shift, but because she is new in the field, she must work nights. This is in Houston, at a major hospital in the medical center. I'm thrilled that she is able to realize her dream of becoming a nurse, but in my opinion the hours are reprehensible.

John Smith (4/15/2013 at 10:25 AM)
My daughter like the 12 hrs. shift but I'm concern about the number of nurses accidents driving back home after the third 12 hrs. shift on top of the possible medical errors.

EMR Saves Lives (10/23/2010 at 9:34 AM)
This is common sense. Scheduling problems are notorious in hospitals and nursing homes. I feel bad for the patients and the nurses.