How Many Hours Do Nurses Work?

How Many Hours Do Nurses Work?

Mar 22, 2015 | 8:00 am

When people consider a career in nursing, one of the first questions they ask is, “How many hours do nurses work?” Of course the answer changes depending on whether nurses work full-time or part-time hours, the amount of overtime they pursue and their position requirements.

Nursing Hours and Shifts

In most cases, full-time nurses are scheduled to work between 36 and 40 hours per week, but how they arrange those hours can vary. For example, American Journal of Nursing notes that the 12-hour shift is largely replacing the 8-hour shift in nursing, especially in the hospital setting. While this may sound exhausting, many nurses enjoy working longer hours in a day and fewer days in a week. Hours can also include nights, weekends, holidays and on-call situations.

Patients in hospitals and nursing care facilities require 24-hour care, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses in these settings work in rotating shifts to cover the entire day. So how many hours do nurses work in a shift? Some of the most common scheduling scenarios include:

•Five 8-hour shifts per week
•Four 10-hour shifts per week
•Three 12-hour shifts per week

Nurses who work in office and school settings, or who do not interact with patients directly, typically work normal business hours, notes the BLS.

Overtime Nursing Hours

How many hours do nurses work overtime? First, let’s look at what this means. Overtime refers to hours worked beyond the regularly agreed upon work schedule. For example, if a nurse is scheduled to work for eight hours a day, five days a week, anything scheduled over those 40 hours in a week is considered overtime.

Like other occupations, nurses may get the option to pick up paid overtime as it becomes available to earn more money. “Mandatory overtime,” on the other hand, is a workplace issue that may be contributing to higher burnout rates and nurses leaving the field. According to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN), mandatory overtime occurs when hospitals or other health care facilities require nurses to work anywhere between 12 to 16 hours to maintain staff numbers (and with as little as one hour’s notice!). Groups like the AACN disagree with the practice and seek to end it through educating the field and encouraging changes in legislation.

Nurses can also find themselves working overtime in unforeseen emergency situations, but this is not considered mandatory overtime as described above. Lastly, though a nurse is scheduled for a certain amount of time in a day, some last-minute patient needs or emergencies may keep them working extra time… but this time is unscheduled and in many cases, just part of the job.

While most full-time nurses take on a 36- or 40-hour workweek, issues such as unscheduled time on the job, optional overtime and mandatory overtime can up those numbers substantially. How many hours do nurses work? The answer truly comes down to the nurse, the medical specialty, the location and the agreed upon status.