How Many Hours Do Registered Nurses Work?

nurse watch showing time

In a recent article, we touched upon code of ethics for nursesAs an aspirant nurse or nursing school student, you might also be wondering how many hours do registered nurses work? 

The quick answer is a registered nurse’s working day will vary from 8 to 14,5 hours if working full time and in a fast paced environment.

According to the World Healthcare Organization, an unhealthy work-life balance can lead to mental health disorders, including sadness, anxiety, and depression. We all know that nurses work long hours, but how long are they and what would it be like to be a nurse?

Like most organizations, the healthcare system defines its working hours on a weekly basis. Nurses can work either full-time or part-time, depending on the availability of jobs and other factors that may weigh in the decision.

Full-time typically means between 36 and 40 hours a week, based on a shift schedule. Nurses working part-time usually work 30 hours per week or less.

Working part-time doesn’t mean lower hourly wages, but it does mean a lower take-home pay at the end of the month.

While these are standard working hours, most healthcare facilities may ask you to stay overtime or take on a double shift if there is a massive shortage of staff. In some states, you may even be allowed to do volunteer overtime – many nurses agree to work longer hours to boost their wages.

Due to safety concerns, some states started to ban mandatory overtime for nurses. Yet, no federal law restricts the number of hours registered nurses can work in a 24-hour or 7-day period.

How Many Hours Do Registered Nurses Work In a Day?

A nurse’s working day can vary from 8 to 12 hours if working full time. Nurses working part-time can also work the same number of hours per day, but their schedules are usually established with the department lead.

If you work in a full-time position, most facilities will give you the possibility to choose from the following arrangements:

  • Working 8-hour shifts 5 days a week;
  • Working 10-hour shifts 4 days a week;
  • Working 12-hour shifts 3 days a week.

Although each arrangement comes with pros and cons, most nurses working in a hospital setting prefer the 3 days a week, 12-hour shifts, which gives them the possibility to have four free days a week.

However, keep in mind that the hours above only refer to the time spent actually working on the ward. They don’t include your breaks nor the shift transition.

According to the US Department of Labor, employers must provide lunch breaks and pay for them. Whether your employer will indeed pay for the breaks is uncertain, but the truth is that most employers account for at least half-an-hour of breaks for each shift.

Consequently, your 8-hour shift will become 8.5 hours, whereas you will work 12.5 hours instead of 12.

Then, there comes into play the shift transition. Nobody will pay you for this time, yet you will have to explain to your coworkers what happened during your shift and give them the details about the new patients.

If you’re working in a slow-pace ward, this could be half an hour. If you work in a busy ward in a big hospital, shift transition could take up to 2 hours.

In the worst of the hypothesis, a 12-hour shift has quickly turned into a 14.5-hour shift. Working three days a week in these conditions may not be so appealing after all, especially if you decide to work consecutive days.

wine glasses for registered nurses

How To Survive 12-hour Shifts?

Despite the long working hours, many nurses prefer the 3-days-a-week, 12-hour shifts schedule. If you start working in a facility where most of your coworkers prefer sticking to this schedule, you might have to adapt to it regardless of what schedule you’d actually like.

Even if you really want to work according to such a schedule, know that your shifts can be exhausting; they can lead to burnout, increase the risk of injuries, and even the risk of committing errors.

Obviously, 12-hour shifts aren’t going anywhere. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to make them more bearable.

  • Rest well before starting your shift, especially if it’s a night shift;
  • Learn how to perform stretching and deep breathing – they help alleviate stress and muscle tension;
  • Eat healthy snacks and a well-balanced diet. Nuts and dried fruits in your medical bag or backpack can boost your energy;
  • Keep your hands moisturized against over-washing and over-disinfecting;
  • Avoid drinking too much coffee; too much caffeine can have the opposite effect and make you drowsy;
  • Drink plenty of water, take your breaks and take short walks along the corridors whenever the time allows it;
  • Wear shoes that are specifically made for nurses on feet all day and compression socks is a must for  pretty much all nurses;
  • Keep track of your routines with a specialized watch for nurses.

What Hours of The Day Do Registered Nurses Work?​

When you will actually have to be at work largely depends on your job. If you’re working in a slow-paced setting, such as a practitioner’s studio, chances are you’ll be required to work the normal 9-to-5 schedule from Monday to Friday, and have the weekends off.

Nurses working in schools or general institutions often follow the same routine.

If you work in a hospital, you can be required to work morning, noon, and night shifts with rotating weekends.

Some part-time nurses also choose to work weekends or nights, to increment their hourly wages.

How Much Does A Registered Nurse Earn?

Working long hours has some advantages when it comes to your salary. A registered nurse can expect to earn between $35 and $42 per hour on average, depending on their level of experience, department, and employer.

The average annual salary for a registered nurse is $73,550, which means a bountiful monthly salary of $6,129. That’s almost $2,000 more than the national average wage in the US.

Newly registered nurses usually have a lower wage that will increment based on the experience and new qualifications you might achieve.

Career Outlook

Currently, the career outlook for registered nurses is very promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a career growth of 19% until 2022, which means a lot of job opportunities.

The high demand for qualified registered nurses means more opportunities for you to choose the preferred job, area where you want to work, and better margins when negotiating your wage, shifts, and working hours.

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