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Guide to Creating Better Nurse Schedules

5 min read
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Nurses play a crucial role in the healthcare industry, providing essential care to patients around the clock. Unlike traditional nine-to-five jobs, nurses follow unique schedules that often involve long shifts and varying workdays. In this article, we will delve into the typical nurse schedule, outline the pros and cons of such schedules, and provide valuable tips for nurse scheduling to help nurses effectively manage their demanding work hours.


What is a Typical Nurse Schedule?
Different Types of Nurse Schedules
Pros and Cons of Working a Nurse’s Schedule
Scheduling Tips for Nurse’s
How to Create a Work Schedule for Nurses
Nurse Scheduling Software ✅

Nurse Schedule

A nurse schedule is a unique and demanding schedule that sets the profession apart from other conventional nine-to-five jobs. These types of employee schedules come with their own set of problems which we will also get into in a minute.

How many hours does a nurse work

A typical nurse schedule consists of 12-hour shifts, either from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. This schedule means nurses typically work only three days a week, allowing for more extended periods of rest. At the beginning of their shifts, nurses receive a thorough handoff from the outgoing nurse, which includes vital patient information such as medical conditions, medications, and relevant health data. During their shift, nurses administer care, collaborate with medical staff, and maintain detailed patient records. Once their 12-hour shift concludes, nurses must hand off their responsibilities to the next nurse on duty.

Different Types of Nurse Schedules

While most nurses in hospital settings adhere to the 12-hour shift schedule, other nursing positions offer different work schedules.

Nurse work shifts

1. Outpatient Nurses: Work four 10-hour shifts, leaving after their last procedure.
2. Surgery Nurses: Also work four 10-hour shifts and depart after their last procedure.
3. Nurse Educators, Managers, and Case Managers: Typically follow a traditional Monday through Friday, eight-to-five schedule.

Shift pick up

To earn more money, many nurses decide to work extra shifts. But handling extra work and going over 50 hours a week can harm a nurse’s physical and mental health. It can also lower the quality of care they provide and increase the chances of making mistakes while taking care of patients.

Nurse self scheduling

Nurse self-scheduling is a practice that empowers nurses to maintain a healthy work-life balance. In this system, nurses have a degree of control over their schedules, allowing them to select shifts that align with their personal needs and preferences. While some scheduling software may not directly facilitate this process, it remains an important aspect of nurse satisfaction and well-being, promoting a harmonious work environment in healthcare settings.

Nurse scheduling software

Nurse scheduling software simplifies and streamlines the scheduling process, making it easily accessible via mobile apps and offering at-a-glance visibility. This user-friendly software ensures that both nurses and managers can quickly check schedules and track who is assigned to work. This not only improves scheduling efficiency but also promotes transparency and accountability in healthcare facilities, ultimately benefiting both staff and management.

nurse schedule software demo

Pros and Cons of Working a Nurse’s Schedule

Pros of Working a Nurse’s Schedule

1. Flexible Workdays: Nurses enjoy the advantage of having several days off in a row. Some opt for working two days on and one off, while others prefer three consecutive workdays, allowing for four non-working days.

2. Fewer Commute Days: For nurses who live far from their workplace, the reduced number of working days minimizes the stress and expense of daily commuting.

3. Less Childcare Needed: Nurses with young children find it easier to manage childcare responsibilities, as compared to a traditional five-day workweek.

4. More Per Diem Options: The flexibility of nurse schedules allows for per diem work, enabling nurses to accept shifts on a day-to-day basis, accommodating their needs.

5. Ease of Travel: Nurses can potentially enjoy up to seven consecutive days off without using vacation time, making it easier for them to travel and explore other opportunities.

6. Steady Workflow: Despite long shifts, nurses typically experience a consistently busy schedule, fostering a sense of productivity during their work hours.

7. Weekdays Off: The ability to take care of responsibilities that are challenging to handle on weekends is a valuable perk for some nurses.

Cons of Working a Nurse’s Schedule:

1. Long Days: Shifts can extend to 16-hour days, especially when patient needs require overtime work at the end of a long shift or to address emergencies.

2. Odd Sleep Schedule: Nurses working night shifts may struggle to maintain a consistent sleep pattern on their days off, as they constantly adjust to different sleep times.

3. Limited Family Time on Workdays: Long shifts often mean leaving home before family members are awake and returning when young children are already in bed.

4. Minimal Downtime During Shifts: Nurses may find it challenging to take breaks while managing patient care, charting, and communication with healthcare teams.

5. Health Neglect: Fatigue and physical strain from demanding schedules may lead nurses to overlook their own health needs.

6. Information Overload at Handoff: Sharing a full 12 hours of patient notes during a shift change can be challenging, requiring thorough communication and attention to detail.

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Scheduling Tips for Nurse’s

To navigate the rewarding yet demanding nurse’s schedule effectively, consider these tips:

1. Prioritize Sleep: Make sleep a top priority by establishing a consistent sleep schedule and allowing extra time for rest on days off, particularly for night shift workers.

2. Recovery on the First Day Off: After multiple long shifts, dedicate your first day off to refresh and take care of yourself. Minimize tasks and save physically demanding chores for another time.

3. Spread Out Workdays: If possible, work two days in a row instead of three, as this can be less exhausting and make it easier to recover from demanding shifts.

4. Maintain a Balanced Diet: Eat healthy, energy-boosting foods like lean proteins, dark leafy greens, and whole grains. Incorporate nutritious snacks like nuts, fruits, veggies, and complex carbs to sustain energy during busy hours.

5. Manage End-of-Shift Fatigue: Prepare for mental and physical fatigue during the last hours of your shift by having a plan, such as extra coffee or energy-boosting snacks.

How to Create a Work Schedule for Nurses

Of course, recommending a healthy diet is hardly enough to keep employees happy. The most important thing managers can do when creating and maintaining nurse shifts is a good shift schedule, clear communication, and proper time off policies.

free shift management template

Try Factorial for Free! Or book a demo to learn more.

Factorial is a powerful tool that can be a valuable asset to nurses in managing their work schedules and HR-related tasks. Here’s how Factorial can assist nurses:

  1. Efficient Schedule Management: Factorial simplifies the process of managing work schedules. Nurses can easily view their shifts, request time off, and receive notifications about schedule changes. This helps nurses plan their personal lives more effectively and reduces scheduling conflicts.
  2. Streamlined Time Tracking: Factorial’s time-tracking features allow nurses to clock in and out accurately. This ensures that they are compensated correctly for their hours worked and helps healthcare facilities maintain accurate payroll records.
  3. Leave Requests and Approval: Nurses can request time off through Factorial, making it convenient to schedule vacations or attend to personal matters. Supervisors can efficiently review and approve these requests, ensuring proper staffing levels and work-life balance.
  4. HR Documentation: Factorial provides a central location for important HR documents, such as agreements, contracts and certifications. Nurses can easily access and update their information, reducing administrative hassles.
  5. Communication Hub: The platform also serves as a communication hub, facilitating easy interactions between nurses and their supervisors or HR departments. This can be especially useful for addressing concerns or seeking clarification on work-related matters.

By offering these features, Factorial simplifies administrative tasks for nurses, allowing them to focus more on providing quality patient care and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Try Factorial today for free or book a demo to learn more!

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Nursing is a challenging yet immensely rewarding profession that demands dedication and adaptability to handle unique work schedules. By understanding the pros and cons of a nurse’s schedule and implementing effective strategies, nurses can not only provide excellent patient care but also maintain their well-being and work-life balance in this demanding field.

Did you like this article? Benjamin McBrayer has been a Content Writer for 5 years. He specializes in HR strategy and workplace trends. Check out Factorial's blog for more of his posts on time management in the office, productivity, and HR news.

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