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How Many Days A Week Do Nurses Work?

Depending on who you ask, nurses either have it very easy or very hard. On the one hand, many assume that they always work just three days a week and can pick and choose their schedules at will. At the same time, there are those who believe nurses work non-stop and regularly pull 12-hour shifts.

So, what's the truth? How many days and hours do nurses work per week?

What is a Typical Nurse Schedule?

The healthcare industry is vast and covers many nurse specialties and numerous healthcare facilities. Ultimately, the number of days and hours that a nurse works will depend on their specific role and facility.

In facilities that care for patients 24 hours a day, twelve-hour shifts are common. This is true for hospitals and long-term care facilities.

In private practices, clinics, and some hospitals, nurses may work ten hours per week while eight-hour shifts are common in schools and medical clinics.

Nurses can also work "PRN", which stands for "Pre Re Neta" and basically means "As Needed". Nurses working PRN don't have a set schedule and work with facilities that call upon them as and when they are needed.

Summary of Working Hours and Shifts In the Nursing Profession

  • 3 Twelve Hour Shifts Per Week: Hospitals and long-term care facilities.
  • 4 Ten Hour Shifts Per Week: Private practices, clinics, and hospitals
  • 5 Eight Hour Shifts Per Week : Medical clinics and schools

Do Nurses Work 3 Days a Week?

Many nurses work just 3 days a week. Although it seems like a pretty relaxed and manageable schedule, they work 12-hour shifts on each of those days. Those long shifts can be draining and taxing on the nurse's mental and physical health—it's far from an easy schedule.

Why Do Nurses Work 3 Days a Week in a Hospital Setting?

Nurses working a total of three 12 hour shifts will work for 36 hours per week. It's a full-time job, and they're actually working more hours per week than if they did five 7 hour shifts.

The Pros of Working Three 12 Hour Shifts

  • More Personal Time : The nursing profession is chaotic and tiring. It can feel like you're either working or resting and throughout that time, you'll be missing social engagements. When you work 3 days a week, you'll have more time for yourself and your family.
  • Rest and Recuperate: Working three shifts gives you more time to rest, recuperate, and work on self-care.
  • Shift Swaps : Many nurses work twelve-hour rotating shifts, making it easy to swap shifts with colleagues.
  • Overtime Pay : All those extra free days mean you'll be free to pick up some overtime work and bump up your paycheck.

The Cons of Working Three 12 Hour Shifts

  • Draining Work : 12 hours is a long time to work, especially as you'll be running around and dealing with sick patients throughout that time. It's mentally, physically, and emotionally draining.
  • 3 Lost Days: Although you'll have 4 free days per week, you'll feel like you've lost every hour of your working days. You'll be waking up, going to work, returning home, and climbing straight into bed.
  • Weekend Shifts: Nurses working 3 days a week are required to pick up a number of weekend shifts, so you'll lose a few of your weekends every quarter.
  • Work, Rest, Repeat: One day you're working and the next you're resting. You might not feel like shopping, exercising, or spending time with friends after being on your feet for twelve hours the previous day. As a result, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

The Pros of Working Four 10 Hour Shifts

  • Long Weekends: Most nurses working 10-hour shifts are busy from Monday through to Thursday and then free for a 3-day weekend. If you have a big family or an active social life, this schedule could be perfect for you.
  • More Time : On the days that you work, you'll have more time for family and social activities. It's not quite enough time for a big family day out, but it's enough to spend time with your kids/partner, go to a restaurant, or just relax in front of the TV.
  • Fewer End-of-Shift Duties: If you end your shift before a changeover, you could be responsible for fewer end-of-shift duties, including checking vitals and charts.

The Cons of Working Four 10 Hour Shifts

  • More Work Days : For the sake of 2 fewer hours each shift, you're working one more day per week, taking away time that could have been used to rest. You're also working 40 hours in total, which is 4 more than you'd work with 12-hour shifts.
  • Long Shifts: 10-hour shifts might be easier than 12-hour shifts, but it's still a long time to work. It's also common for these shifts to stretch into 11 and even 12 hours.
  • Shift Change Stress: While leaving before the changeover can save you time, you'll also be entering prior to a changeover and that could lead to a chaotic start.

The Pros of Working Five 8 Hour Shifts

  • Free Time on Working Days: You won't be working long hours and so you'll have more time free for family, friends, and yourself.
  • Stability: 5-day workweeks are usually more predictable, so you won't miss as many social engagements or disappoint as many friends. You may also work similar schedules to friends and partners.
  • Less Demanding: Shorter shifts are more common in specialized medical settings where the work is not as demanding as it is in intensive healthcare facilities.

The Cons of Working Five 8 Hour Shifts

  • More Working Days: You'll be at work for two more days than if you were working 3-day shifts. It can be easier to spread your hours out like this, but it also means you'll have fewer days entirely to yourself.
  • Expenses : The fact that you're constantly traveling to and from work means you'll accumulate more working expenses, including travel costs, parking, and food.
  • Fewer Shift Changes: It will be harder to find someone to cover you as needed.

Summary: Nursing Schedules

The hours per week that a registered nurse works will depend on numerous factors, including where they work, what role they perform, and whether they pick up any voluntary overtime.

As noted above, there are pros and cons to all working schedules, but if you want to work in a specific role within a specific facility, you may not have the luxury of choice.

When starting your nursing career, pay the potential weekly schedule as much consideration as you give to your salary, overtime options, and the difficulty of acquiring qualifications and certifications. Finding a role with a suitable schedule could make it easy to build your personal life around your work, ensuring that you still have time for the things that matter, including your health, family, and friends.

find nursing schools near you

find nursing schools near you