The long hours and all-night working culture for some medical professionals is unfortunately a standard fixture. But despite the obvious downsides, 12 hour (and longer) shifts remain fairly popular compared with 8 hour shifts. The most prominent benefit of the longer shifts is less handoffs, meaning patients are not being attended to by as many Nurses. This could mean less reports and less chance of miscommunication errors, while giving the chance for patients to feel more comfortable with the Nurses on shift.
While this particular point is beneficial to patients, when you’re doing your third 12 hour shift in a row, especially late into the night, it can be tough to stay energised and positive. The correct pair of shoes can help you feel more comfortable while you work but there is only so much help extra comfort can give you.
We have pulled together 5 of our favourite tips to help you survive those extra grueling 12+ long shifts with your mind and patients intact.
#1. Be A Creature Of Habit
Being a medical professional is unpredictable, not just in the patients you care for but also the hours worked. With working past your shift end potentially being a regular occurrence depending on your area, it is important to have a sense of habit and schedule outside of work.
Most Nurses recommend trying to keep a regular sleep schedule and going to bed or settle down at the same time, including on days off. Start and manage some routines in your personal life that you can rely on to be dependable and relaxing. This could mean a hobby, eating a meal with the family, or watching your favourite TV show.
It is also worth creating a ‘behaviour chain’, and instead of choosing an abstract goal such as, “I need to exercise three times a week”, create an action plan that leads to it. For example, “Once I get home from work I will eat a healthy snack, change out of my work uniform, and then go for a thirty minute run.” This kind of planning is more effective for creating healthy habits which in turn can help your daily routine.
#2. Let Caffeine Be Your Servant, Not Your Master
Caffeine in one form or the other is the ultimate life saver for many medical professionals. It can be used as an initial boost at the start of the shift or or an absolute necessity throughout as a substitute for sleep. But a study from 2016 found that after restricting sleep to 5 hours per night, caffeine use no longer improved alertness or performance after three nights.
As medical professionals, it is essential to understand the advantages and drawbacks of coffee consumption to fully claim the benefits, without affecting your work negatively. You wouldn’t tell a patient to constantly drink coffee throughout the day to get them through it, so don’t do it yourself!
The fact is, no amount of coffee can replace a solid night’s sleep and for your patients (and own) sake, it’s best not to rely on caffeine too much to get you through those long hours. Start your shift with a strong coffee and avoid it all together for the last half of your shift. This way by the time you’ve finished, you’ll be ready to settle down to sleep if you need to, without having caffeine in your system keeping you awake.
#3. Fuel Your Body
You wouldn’t advise a patient to work long hours on an empty stomach, so why would you do it yourself?
There is plenty of advice out there on medical professionals getting enough sleep with their long shifts, but what about the fuel needed for your body and brain to keep you going while you’re working?
Hunger can be just as bad as sleep deprivation for mood and on-the-job performance so it is important that you make sure you get regular breaks for snacks. If you are in a rush (which you probably will be) bring a number of high protein snacks with you such as nuts and energy bars that will release energy over a longer period of time. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water during your shift to hold off the dehydration and fatigue, while keeping you fuller for longer.
Snacks can be all well and good in a pinch, but ideally you’d like a healthier and fuller meal to keep those energy levels up. This is where meal prep comes in.
Work this in as part of your schedule as mentioned in point #1 and set aside a bit of time on a day off and create your meals to bring to work over the course of the week. It will save you money, time in the long run and could be much healthier than fitting in snacks where you can while at work. Plenty of meat, vegetables and rice or pasta will give you the energy you need to power through your shift without you getting too hungry again. The more meals you are able to freeze on meal prep day, the less you have to focus on meal prep during the rest of the week. Find some recipes here.
#4 Leave Work At Work
Medical professionals are dedicated, determined and can be self-diagnosed ‘workaholics’. Going the extra mile for your patient is truly wonderful and sometimes necessary, but you must know your own limits and learn to leave work at the door when you go home for the day.
A study in the United States showed:
“In hospitals which had higher proportions of nurses working longer shifts, higher percentages of patients reported that nurses sometimes or never communicated well, pain was sometimes or never well controlled, and they sometimes or never received help as soon as they wanted.”
So although you may have good intentions, taking a much needed break may not only be the best thing for you, but your patients too.
#5 Keep Strong Friendships
You will find your friends will be a lifeline the more long hours you put in.
No matter what you talk about, whether you’re ranting about your day, or setting up your next night out together, a chat with a friend will leave you happier and more energised.
Working with friends can make you more productive as you can coordinate tasks more effectively without the awkwardness of working with strangers and not knowing what makes them tick. It may make the shift more enjoyable, less tiring, easier to manage and overall, get a better performance from you.
Outside of work though, your friends can be an temporary escape from those multiple 12 hour shifts in a row. Taking a breather from you professional life reduces stress, clears your head, and can help you bring a new perspective to your work or personal life.
While you can be spontaneous with meeting your friends if you feel up to it, it is also important working with point #1 and schedule some time together. This way you will be less likely to waste your precious spare time by sitting on the couch all day watching Netflix, which although sounds tempting, isn’t nearly as fun as spending time with your friends!
Try planning ahead and booking fun activities from the likes of Wowcher and Groupon. Booking an activity with your friends will give you something to look forward to while you’re working hard and can make you more proactive while giving you that extra little push you need to get you through those long hours.
Do you have any tried and tested methods for surviving those long shifts? Let us know in the comments!