Twelve hour work shifts are becoming more common among hospital nurses. Those nurses say they like the longer shifts because it gives them more days off in the week.
“I like them. Majority of the nurses on the floor are pleased. They are there less days of the week and they have more time off with their families," registered nurse Erin Cain said.
However, a University of Pennsylvania study found the effect of 12-hour shifts on nurses' performance is not nearly as positive as their opinions of the work schedule.
The study, done by researchers at the University's school of nursing, found that as the number of hospital nurses working shifts of more than eight hours increased, patients' satisfaction with their overall care decreased.
Linda Lehmkuhle works three 12-hour shifts a week at Lexington Medical Center and says by the end of her shift she is very tired.
“I've received comments from patients just noting the tiredness in my voice or the look on my face. I think it's important not to show that but it does happen,” Lehmkuhle said.
Some nurses argue it is not the actual shift that is the problem, but how nurses spend their time in between shifts that may contribute to fatigue.
“It really depends on how well your sleeping at night and how you're organizing your time," USC nursing student Lauren Rutledge said.
The Nursing Community Journal claims nurses who work longer shifts have three times the patient care error rate compared to nurses working shorter shifts.
One very noticeable improvement of longer shifts was the continuity of patient care.
“I actually feel like I know my patients better because I've been with them over a course of a longer time,” Cain said. “I also feel like the families get to trust me more because I'm with them for longer periods of time.”
However, Pennsylvania researchers found that nurses who worked longer shifts were up to two and a half times more likely than nurses working shorter shifts to experience burnout and job dissatisfaction.
While pros and cons have been documented for both eight and twelve hour shifts, it is evident to hospital staff there is a fine line in which the benefits can quickly turn into consequences.
The Joint commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations has called for hospitals to intensify their efforts to monitor and address health care workers' risk for fatigue cased by extended shifts.