How Many Hours Does a Nurse Work

A popular question indeed – how many hours does a nurse work? To be honest there is no straight answer to this question although a very basic rule would be 36- 40 hours per week for a full time registered nurse. But this does not really address the issue.

Forty hours per week may be true for a registered nurse working 9 to 5 five days per week but how many nurses actually do that! Not too many we think! And no – they don’t usually work less than that! Nursing schedules tend to vary quite a bit.

Also you need to consider the type of nurse you are and the area you work in. This article addresses how many hours a registered nurse works but could apply to any number of nursing roles.

A Nurse Practitioner or a Certified Nurse Anesthetist may have a different working schedule to an LVN but the general rules will apply to all nursing roles. One thing is for sure they work hard – especially when you look at average nurse salaries.

Nurses Hours

nurse working hours

Nursing Hours on Shift Work

Hospitals and some healthcare facilities are open 24 hours per day which means they need staffed 24 hours per day, 365 days per year and even 366 days per year if it is a leap year!

Most common shift patterns are 8 hour shift, 10 hour shift and 12 hour shift. Some hospitals will have a standard 12 hour shift pattern working 3 days per week on rotation. Another might have an 8 hour shift rotation, working early or late shift over 5 days and another might have a 10 hour shift working over four days.

This allows the hospital to be covered at all times with qualified nursing staff. But each hospital and facility will have their own policy regarding working hours for nurses and other personnel.

These working hours for nurses generally apply to those working in an in-patient setting or facility such as:

  • Emergency Department
  • Critical Care Unit
  • Mental Health Facility
  • Maternity Services

For nurses working in a school or a clinical setting the hours tend to be regular 8 hour days, five days a week with weekends off.

How Many Hours Does A Nurse Work In A Week

This depends on the hospital and their policy around working hours for nurses and of course the shift pattern they use.

  • A nurse working 8-hour shifts five days per week will work 40 hours per week. Two days off.
  • A nurse working 10-hour shifts four days per week will work 40 hours per week. Three days off.
  • A nurse working 12- hour shifts three days per week will work 36 hours in a week but some hospitals will insist on a 40 hour work week or 80 hours in two weeks. This means these nurses will work six 12 hour shifts and one 8-hour shift in a two week period. Four days a week off or 7 days off in a fortnight.

How many hours a Registered Nurse works will also have an effect on RN Salaries – as does where in the country they are employed. See my main RN Salary page for a breakdown.

nurse schedule

How Many Hours Does a Nurse Work in a Year?

These calculations are based on a nurse having paid leave of four weeks per year. Again each facility will differ and nurses can gain more annual leave depending on experience and time working in the facility or hospital.

So a typical nurse, if there is such thing, who works 40 hours per week will work 1,920 hours in a year (48×40). But, a nurse working 36 hours per week will work 1,728 per annum (48×36).

These figures are based on the mandatory hours a nurse works according to their contract but does not take into account unpaid hours, voluntary hours or overtime worked. All of which can significantly increase the hours worked by a nurse over a week, month or a year.

Part-Time Nurses Hours

Part-time hours as a general rule are less than 30 hours per week and can be a lot less than this. Nurses choose to work part-time for any number of reasons including, wanting to keep registration and certification active or even wanting to have healthy and happy work/life balance.

Currently there are over 64,000 part-time registered nurses positions available in the US.

nursing hours

How To Survive Those Long Shifts

Sleep- and Not on the Job!

According to the New England Journal of Medicine up to 20% of workers work non- traditional hours either night shift or shift rotation. This can play havoc with your sleep pattern. Sleep deprivation can have a huge impact on concentration, decision making and levels of irritability.

Tips for getting a good sleep day or night include sleeping in a darkened room, use black out blinds or curtains. Use ear plugs and an eye mask. Unwind by meditating, reading or listening to music. Have a soothing drink such as camomile tea.

Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals and bright lights prior to sleeping can all help induce a restful night’s sleep.

Eat a Healthy Diet

working hours nurse

We all know the importance of a healthy diet and this can be true for nurses working shift patterns or night shift. Preparation is the key.

Bring a healthy meal and snacks with you to work, this way you can limit the temptation to snack on those unhealthy choices in vending machines.

Drink plenty of fluids and limit your choices to water, the occasional coffee and sugar free drinks.
Avoid energy drinks and high fat, high sugar content meals or snacks.

Exercise-Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

exercise for nurses

We all know the benefits of exercise on our physical and mental well being but how can it help with sift work?
Incorporating exercise into your week has so many benefits, but how do we fit it in around shift work.

The key to this is to plan ahead and try to stick to that plan. Going for a swim before a shift or a session at the gym can invigorate you and get you ready for the day ahead.

But if you don’t like the thought of doing anything before work plan to do some exercise on your off days. Ask a colleague to join you or set up a group for your team and plan to go for a jog or something fun like rollerblading.

Doing small exercises or stretches during your shift or your break can keep you alert and promote healing in aching areas such as your back or neck. Doing a deep breathing exercise can also boost energy by increasing oxygen supplies to the major organs.

Social Life-Unsocial Hours

Having a busy working schedule can play havoc with your social life and add into the mix the unsociable hours you need to work, it seems nearly impossible to have any social life at all.

But with all things shift related it needs a plan and quality over quantity is vitally important. Plan a short catch up with family and friends. Go out for lunch or go to the park for a walk and try to stay away from work related topics.

Stay engaged with those around you and avoids distractions while you are together.

Agree to not look at your phones- I know this is difficult but how many times have you been in a coffee shop etc. and watch people sitting with each other but not talking to each other, rather they are looking at their phones.

Enjoy a good night out!

nurse schedules

Commuting as a Shift Worker

We all know that feeling of driving home after a long shift and wondering how you got there. You can be distracted about an event at work, thinking about the day ahead or just exhausted.

Sleep deprivation can lead to mistakes and accidents, so how can you avoid this or lessen the chances of something going wrong.

Carpool is a great way to share the driving decreasing the risks of accidents after a long day.

Using public transport minimizes the chance of you having an accident and can be a life saver for many who find they are just too tired to drive after work.

We have looked at the working hours of a nurse but what about overtime and the impact it can have on your work/life balance.

overtime pay

Mandatory and Voluntary Overtime for Nurses

Mandatory overtime according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is any hours logged over the regular 40 hours in a working week. After this an employer is expected to pay no less than one and a half times their regular pay.

Using mandatory overtime should only be a short term solution and not the norm for hospitals or care facilities. Addressing the longer term staffing issues is the only way problems with staff shortages can be rectified.

However some states have outlawed the practice of mandatory overtime except in extreme circumstances.

These laws apply to registered nurses, LVN’s, LPN’s and Certified Nursing Assistants.

Alaska

Mandatory overtime is illegal and a shift cannot exceed 14 consecutive hours

California

Mandatory Overtime prohibited by law and a nurse cannot work more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period. Exceptions for emergencies

Connecticut

Legal in certain cases such as emergencies and completion of a procedure

Illinois

Mandatory overtime is illegal and nurses cannot work more than 4 hours after their scheduled shift ends and must have 8 hours rest after a 12 hour shift. Exceptions for emergencies

Maine

Mandatory overtime is illegal except in emergencies

Maryland

Mandatory overtime is illegal except in emergencies and when nurse’s critical skills are required

Massachusetts

Mandatory overtime is illegal except in emergencies and nurses cannot work longer than a 12 hour shift

Minnesota

Mandatory overtime is illegal except in emergencies, in this state inadequate nursing replacement staff is considered an exception

emergency hours

Missouri

LPN’s mandatory overtime is prohibited by regulation and can only be used if patient safety is at risk. All reasonable efforts must be made to retain staff in other ways

New Hampshire

Mandatory overtime is illegal and nurses cannot work more than 12 hours and must have 8 hours rest after a 12 hour shift. Exceptions for emergencies and completion o procedures

New Jersey

Mandatory overtime is illegal and hospitals and nursing homes cannot force a nurse to work more than 40 hours per week

New York

Mandatory overtime is illegal except in emergencies and completion of a procedure. Refusal to work overtime cannot be seen as patient abandonment

Oregon

Mandatory overtime is illegal and nurses cannot work more than 4 hours after their scheduled shift ends. They cannot work longer than 12 hours in a day or 48 hours in a week. Exceptions for emergencies

Pennsylvania

Mandatory overtime is illegal except in an emergency or a catastrophic event declared by a federal, state or municipal authority

Rhode Island

Mandatory overtime is illegal except in an emergency or a catastrophic event declared by a federal, state or municipal authority. Nurses cannot work longer than a 12 hour shift

Texas

Mandatory overtime is illegal. Nurses who refuse overtime cannot be penalized

Washington

Mandatory overtime is illegal. Nurses who refuse overtime cannot be penalized

West Virginia

Mandatory overtime is illegal. Nurses cannot work longer than 16 hours and must have 8 hours rest following a 12 hour or longer shift. Nurses who refuse overtime cannot be penalized

As I said at the top of this article there is no correct answer to how many hours a nurse works in a day, a week or even a month. Each facility or hospital will have their own policies and procedures around shift work and then you need to take into account state and federal laws concerning overtime.

Nursing hours – there is no one size fits all – but I hope this article has given you a better understanding of all the variables involved.

If you would like to comment on this article please get in touch.