Day Shift or Night Shift?

Getting your first job as a registered nurse is both exciting and scary.  You have already worked so hard to get to this point by completing nursing school and passing the NCLEX-RN and now it’s time to get that first job.  When considering your options for jobs, there are many things to keep in mind.  You might want to think about where you would like to work, what hospitals are hiring, or what nursing department you are interested in.  Another thing to think about is whether you want to work day shift or night shift.  Does it really matter when you work? Here are some things to consider when deciding.

The Day Shift

Are you a morning person? A typical day shift in nursing begins between 6:30 and 7:00 AM. Day shift is usually dominated by more staff.  All hospital departments are up and running, fully staffed, and open for business. Hospital managers and administration are also generally present during day shift. Visiting hours are in full swing for much of this shift as well.  What does that mean to the day shift nurse?

Usually, this will mean dealing with a lot more interruptions to your day. Doctors will write new orders, patients will be transferred in and out of nursing units for tests and surgeries, and many patients are discharged on the day shift.  Before you start thinking this sounds like a pain, it’s also important to realize this means you have a lot more hands to help you on the day shift. As a new nurse, this will be an important consideration. Having all this hustle and bustle can also help you hone your skill of prioritization.  You may get some additional practice on certain skills that are more likely to be needed during the day than at night.  In most places, the majority of scheduled, non-emergent procedures occur during the day shift and day shift nurses manage the care of these patients.

Beyond the job considerations, you must also think about how the shift will affect you personally. If you have a family, sometimes it is easiest to balance schedules when you are working the day shift. Since day shift is what many people are used to, it doesn’t require as much of a transition period to get used to the work hours. Sleeping and eating patterns generally don’t change with the day shift. For many new nurses, day shift provides a great opportunity to start their practices without additional physical stressors that may be caused from a total schedule change, such as working the night shift.

The Night Shift

Are you a night owl? A typical night shift in nursing begins between 6:30 and 7:00 PM.  Night shift usually sees the ebb of people throughout the hospital.  Several departments may move to minimal staffing and some departments, such as outpatient surgery, may close altogether.  There are generally fewer managers and administrators in the hospital during the night shift.  Doctors are seen in fewer numbers so the number of new orders, transfers, and discharges are often less on this shift. Sounds like it might be easier, right?

Not exactly.  While day shift might have hustle and bustle, night shift comes with its own unique responsibilities. The minimal staffing typically seen on night shift means that nurses working this shift must be a bit more autonomous, ready for anything and may also have to manage larger numbers of patients.  If an emergency should occur, nurses on the night shift have fewer helping hands.  That’s not to say, you’ll be all on your own but the night shift might not have ready access to as much assistance as the day shift has. While patients should be sleeping, night nurses must still perform all the needed patient care.  This may mean waking patients frequently which doesn’t always lead to happy patients. As a new nurse on the night shift, you will have the opportunity to develop your nursing practice through critical thinking and problem solving in ways different from your day shift counterparts.

Then, there are the personal factors to consider.  How do you feel about eating “breakfast” at 5 PM and “dinner” and 8 AM? Sleeping during the day can take some getting used to and if you have family obligations, night shift can cause disruption in the daily lives of everyone. It can often be difficult to switch back to a day time schedule on your days off and that can make it even more challenging to balance work and personal commitments. However, for some, night shift allows for more flexibility. It might be easier to hit the gym before going to work in the evening than if you have to wake up extra early.

There will be many factors to consider as you find just the right position for your first nursing job.  Many things will depend on the hospital, location, and specialty you choose to work in.  These broad descriptions of day shift and night shift provide some information for you to think about as you look for what you want in your first, independent practice experience. I’ve worked day shift and I’ve worked night shift.  Of course, I have my favorite but both shifts helped me to develop different skills, professionally and personally.  Good luck finding out what your favorite will be!