Are Nurses Caring for Themselves? Impact and Outcomes of the 12-hour Shift
When you think about your overall health, it’s easy to forget how large of an impact your occupation has on your fitness. The rise in popularity of standing desks came after a series of studies that showed sitting for long periods of time can increase your risk for cancer, and certain types of heart disease. On the flip side, your occupation can be your primary means of exercising like landscapers and roofers. Let’s uncover the true impact that 12-hour nursing shifts have on physical and mental health.
It’s no surprise the literature consistently shows nursing as one of the top 10 most physically active professions. The average day shift nurse will walk 4-5 miles, burning over 1,400 calories in a 12-hour shift. To put it in perspective, restaurant servers walk 4 miles, custodians walk 5.2 miles, and retail floor staff walk 3 miles per shift. Something that stands out about nursing from this group is that it requires a bachelor’s degree and licensure. While these professions are all important, there is a massive difference in the repercussions of mistaking someone’s dinner order compared to miscalculating a drug dosage. While there is always some ‘busy work’ in nursing, it’s the menial tasks that often have serious consequences if done incorrectly. Constant critical thinking coupled with an active shift pattern make nursing a physically demanding profession. One might think that with all the walking that nurses do, they must be generally healthy; think again. Multiple studies have found that ~54% of nurses are either overweight or obese, those nurses citing job stress and poor sleep from long, irregular work hours as the cause.
In addition to having long shifts, research is showing that nurses are working more hours than they’re prescribed. In a 2014 study, more than three quarters of nurses said they regularly worked more than their allotted hours 1. These extra hours are needed because of short staffing, as two thirds of respondents said they were either always short staffed or short staffed more than once a week. The stress that being short staffed causes is not just bad for nurses’ physical health, but their mental health as well. More than 60% of nurses say they have suffered the side-effects of work-related stress, such as physical or mental health problems in the past year. In a 2012 study, hospital-employed bedside nurses were found to have a depression rate of 17% compared to the national rate of only 9% 2.
In light of these daunting health figures, some hospitals are taking note and making changes. The layout of nurses’ stations, medication rooms, and supply closets have been shown to greatly reduce the number of steps a nurse has to take during a shift. Mobile charts and assigning adjacent patient rooms also helps. Some progressive state legislatures have successfully pushed for minimum staffing requirements and enforcement policies that are keeping nurses happier and patients safer. Despite these unhealthy and stressful parts of the job, nursing remains one of the most respected professions in the US. In 2016, nursing was rated the most honest and ethical profession for the 15th year in a row, and #6 on the Forbes list of Most Prestigious Professions.