Why Do Some Nurses Prefer Night Shift?

I was reading a newly released medical thriller when I came across this passage:

“Nurses on night shift were often young (lack of seniority meant they had no choice but to work unpopular hours) and surly (i.e., pissed off about it.)”

Yes, that’s a quote. Perhaps I’m being oversensitive (okay, of course I am), but this is my profession and I don’t like me or my colleagues to be painted in such broad strokes so I thought I would give some reasons why some nurses actually prefer to work nights and are even very happy about it. These are not numbered according to importance.

1. Night Shift Differential. Nurses are generally paid a nice differential for working nights. This varies widely depending on the institution but can be a nice bump in pay. This may translate into working less and being able to spend more time with family or getting more bang for your buck for working the same hours.

2. We’re just night people. I know day shift people don’t understand that it is easier for some people to stay up all night. Our clocks are a little bit different than most other people. That’s a good thing, right? You don’t want your night nurses falling asleep and it’s a good thing some nurses like working nights because hospitals run 365/24/7. Personally, I think a crime has occurred if I have to be up before the sunrise. It feels wrong on a cellular level.

3. Child Care Reasons. Some families like to juggle one (or even both) parents working nights to limit or stave off daycare costs.

4. Less Administration on Site. This might be the night shift untold secret, but there are infinitely less administrators around during the night shift which means less overall scrutiny. I don’t mean to say night nurses are crazy with power and do inappropriate things, but there is a more relaxed feeling on nights because of this. Government entities don’t pop in at 0300 for a surprise inspection— though they might now that I’ve written this.

5. More Relaxed Pace. Many nurses prefer nights because of the more relaxed pace. Fewer tests and procedures to take your patient to. In the ER setting, less overall patients as the night goes on (though you also have less nurses to take care of those patients.) For inpatient and ICU nurses, doctors round during the day which is when the most orders are generated. Not having as many tasks leaves more time to truly connect with your patient. When we have only one or two ER patients at 4AM— we can spend a lot of time teaching and/or visiting with families.

6. They are smart, scrappy people. Not to say this isn’t true of day shift nurses, but night shift nurses usually have less resources available to them overnight. There are fewer people— fewer bodies to help in a code. Support services like lab, pharmacy, central supply, etc may not staff people 24/7 so if a patient needs something, night shift nurses have to think outside the box.

Overall, what raised my ire about these two small sentences from this author (a male physician) was the “surly” connotation. Even if a nurse doesn’t like to work nights, they do not take it out on their patients because of it. Are there cranky, surly nurses? Sure.

However, you can find them on both days and nights.

Love your night shift nurses. They are there for you when everyone else sleeps. And many are highly professional, excellent nurses with years of experience.