“I Won’t Survive”
Flashback to 13 years ago … I’m a mom of an almost 3 year old and very pregnant, I had just passed my NCLEX. I was offered a job in the NICU where I completed my senior rotation, but the position was full time nights and would start before I delivered. The decision was made for me when I was put on modified bed rest at 32 weeks. I called the unit manager and regretfully declined the position.
My kids’ pediatrician at the time told me they needed nurses for their phone triage, so I applied and started 6 weeks after I had my baby. This job was perfect for a new mom, but for the new nurse that went to school for NICU, it was not. I called the NICU manager and she, unfortunately, did not have any positions available; however another NICU in the area did. I was offered a job, but it was straight nights. “I will die,” was my first thought. Although I was sleep deprived from a toddler and a newborn, I knew there was absolutely no way I could stay up all night to work and function as a mom at home. I remember crying to my manager and all but offering up a kidney to be on day shift, but as in most units, a day shift position is highly coveted, so I sucked it up and went to work on night shift.
Here’s the Secret
Night shift is the right shift. Here I am 13 years later, and if you asked me to come to day shift, I would cry and offer up a kidney to stay on night shift. I have had plenty of opportunities to move to day shift over the years and it’s a hard pass for me. There is something about night shift, something about the people (in 3 different hospitals and 3 different states, I can attest that this has been true in every unit I have worked in), something about the team work, there is just something so good about it.
We work really well together; the bond between night shift is strong, many times we are our only resources. During the day shift, everyone is there: management (our unit managers are RNs), ancillary staff (many are RNs), physicians, nurse practitioners, OT/PT, volunteers (pre-COVID). Basically if sh*t hits the fan, there are plenty of people that can step in and help out, but the same does not hold true on nights. I have had countless people assume, “Night shift must be easier because the patients sleep.” The short answer is no. The patients are the same patients 24 hours a day … babies are born, codes happen, people who’ve watched their symptoms all day decide to come to the ER. Patients that had family in with them all day are often alone and scared at night.
The lack of ancillary staff and providers isn’t always a terrible thing. You’ll find that night shift tends to be a little more relaxed for the same reasons that we are sometimes not so relaxed; there aren’t all the aforementioned people around. The relaxed atmosphere can also get us in trouble, visitors and patients often forget that night shift is our day shift; lights are on, monitors alarm, we speak in our normal voices, so we often get told that we are “too loud.”
Best of Both Worlds
In the world of moms, we are often broken into two groups: working and stay at home, but night shift has really allowed me to have the best of both. Yes I work 12 hours, yes my sleep isn’t what it should be, but I really do feel like I have been able to be more present with my kids as a night shift worker than I would be if I worked during the day.
When my kids were little, I would get home right as their sweet sleepy eyes were opening, and I would have some time to snuggle before they went to preschool then I went to bed. They’d learn and play all day and I would sleep, pick them up around 4pm, make dinner, feed them, and kiss their sweet faces as they were on their way up to start bath and bedtime. They’d go to sleep and when they woke up, I was back. There were many times I would end my shift and stay awake so that I could attend an event or just be home and present for my kids. And for some reason, 7pm – 7am just doesn’t feel as long to me. When I started my current job and came home from orientation during a day shift, my husband and my kids both said it felt like I was gone forever.
I am also able to do things before and after my shifts: go out to eat, cook, grocery shop, first day of school drop off, have Christmas morning, make Thanksgiving dinner, attend school functions. When I get a call from school about a sick kid, I do not have to leave work to go pick them up. I just throw on some clothes on, pick them up, and back home and to bed we both go. School is canceled; no calling in sick for me. My kids have never known any different. I attribute my working nights to their independent natures. They both learned how to cook basic things, learned how to entertain themselves, and when I needed to be woken up versus when it was something they could figure out on their own.
Forever Night Shift
Night shift will be my forever, unless I am forced to go to day shift for medical reasons, and even then, I will be kicking and screaming the whole time. I love my night shift friends, from the fresh baby new grads to the seasoned forever night shifters that I will one day become. I enjoy the flexibility it gives me in my everyday life, the opportunities it has given me to learn and become a strong nurse, and the bonds it has created. So when you see one of us night shift lovers bleary eyed wandering the grocery aisle after a shift, or with our designer eye bags at a school function, remember we are the ones who usually go unseen. Unseen rocking your crying baby, unseen holding your grandmother’s hand, unseen being short staffed and getting several more admissions, all while keeping our current patients safe and well cared for.