A statewide survey in Virginia found strong preference for flexible scheduling options.


Article Content

Many clinical nurses prefer 12-hour shifts despite the controversy over shifts longer than the eight-hour standard, which first emerged in the 1970s. The ill effects of long working hours in health care have been well documented, including performance errors and adverse events related to fatigue. Still, many hospitals continue to offer nurses shifts longer than eight hours, citing not only nurses' preferences but also simplified scheduling.


In a recent report in the Journal of Nursing Administration, researchers from the University of Virginia elicited the perspectives of nurses working in Virginia hospitals. Of 190 nurses contacted through the Virginia Nurses Association who met the study criteria and completed the survey, more than half stated a preference for 12-hour shifts, particularly if the respondents worked full time or had long commutes, and about a quarter preferred eight-hour shifts, notably the part-time staff. The remainder said they preferred 10-hour shifts. Most of the survey respondents worked in critical care areas, with only about 4% in intermediate care areas.


The nurses who favored 10- and 12-hour shifts said they believed these longer shifts improved work-life balance and patient care. Paradoxically, nurses in the group working 12-hour shifts were the only respondents to describe burnout and decreased physical and mental health. Among nurses working a 40-hour week, 76.3% favored the 10-hour shift, which the researchers said was a novel finding. Of nurses who worked a 36-hour week, 83.5% preferred 12-hour shifts.


The researchers found an important theme in the responses: Nurses want scheduling options they can tailor to their age and type of work as well as personal circumstances (for example, childcare needs or educational goals). The authors acknowledge that expanding the survey to a national sample would make the results more generalizable.-Gail M. Pfeifer, MA, RN


Haller T, et al J Nurs Adm 2020;50(9):449-55.