Nurses weigh in on the longest shift they've ever worked

Three 12-hour shifts a week has long been considered the standard schedule for hospital nurses. However, many nurses can recall times they've worked far beyond 12 hours due to staffing pressures at their facility. 

"I remember pulling many 16 hour shifts in the emergency department," Alex Whitefield, MSN, RN, a Washington-based nurse, wrote in a recent LinkedIn post, opening up the question of the longest shift worked to other nurses. "I would work [four] hours over my 12 and then come back the next day with less than 8 hours of rest," he wrote, adding that he felt a duty at the time to support his team and would have to turn on the air conditioning during the car ride home to stay awake. 

"We must set standards to not allow for excessively long shifts. I know that leaves a gap in staffing when units are in a pinch, but we need to be solving the staffing problem and not allowing nurses to put themselves and their patients at risk to bridge the gap," Mr. Whitefield said. 

Three other responses in the thread, which can be accessed here

"A couple of 24 hours and at least eight 12-hour shifts in a row in a trauma ICU. That was tough," a California-based nurse wrote. 

"As a transplant coordinator, I worked a 12 then a 24. It was awful," an Arizona-based nurse said. 

"[Twenty-four] hours [as] an ER RN," a Washington-based nurse said. 

"[Twenty] hours. I got mandated to stay after my night shift because they couldn't find anyone to cover the next shift," an Wisconsin-based nurse responded. 

Specific timeframes on when they worked especially long shifts were unclear, though the instances demonstrate the severity and consequences of the national nursing shortage. Over the past year, hospitals and health systems have rolled out different ways to give nurses more scheduling flexibility, such as creating weekend roles and gig economy models. Embracing care delivery models that involve virtual nursing and technology are another key focus area in hospitals' nurse recruitment and retention strategies. 

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