Linking Medical Errors, Nurses' 12-Hour Shifts

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media , October 5, 2010
  • Staggered shifts—Nurses who want to be full time but not work more than two 12-hours shifts in a row could take two 12-hour shifts and two eight hour shifts, which gives them three days off (and five evenings) to be with family and friends each week
  • Group sharing—A group of nurses bands together and signs up for eight-hour shifts, but they match each other to ensure the entire 24 hours are covered
  • Peak-time shifts—Eight-hour, four-hour, two-hour-shifts—or any combination—make a huge difference on units during busy hours
  • Multi-task shifts—Combine roles within a regular shift, such as four-hours patient care, two hours precepting and mentoring new nurses, and two hours in committee work
  • Job sharing—Two or more nurses split a full-time schedule

Of course, one of the biggest barriers may be nurses themselves. Many like being able to work a full time job in only three days and have a long period of time off, which is especially attractive to young generation Y nurses who place high value on having a work-life balance. Twelve-hour shifts are a relatively new invention, however, and nurses used to be just fine working eight-hour shifts.

If we accept the fact that nurse fatigue is a serious issue, then eliminating 12-hour shifts seem like an obvious place to start.

See Also:
Top 10 Most Costly, Frequent Medical Errors

Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at
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40 comments on "Linking Medical Errors, Nurses' 12-Hour Shifts"

Mark Stanley (11/7/2014 at 4:38 PM)
If someone cannot handle 12 hour shifts, then they shouldn't be working them. as far as the comments about feeling bad for patients who have nurses working 12 hour shifts, you are completely ignorant. try working 5 days in a row in a hospital and tell me by day 3 your not done for the week. 12 hour shifts give a nurse more time off and more time with family. Do not post if you are not a nurse please, you don't have a clue.

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.




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