The Night Shift: Is a Non-Traditional Schedule Right For You?

One of the great things about the nurse practitioner career is the variety of job and schedule offerings.  Want to work five days a week 8 to 5?  There is a job for you.  Looking to save on childcare, leave your husband in charge of the kids and can therefore only work on weekends?  There are a plethora of clinics and hospitals who would love your help.  As an NP, there are an endless number of scheduling possibilities allows you to create the lifestyle that best fits your needs.  Working as a nurse practitioner with a very unconventional schedule, what do I see as the positives and negatives of opting for the non-traditional?

In my current ER position, I work a blend of 8 hour and 12 hour shifts, a mix of nights and days including weekends and holidays.  Although occasionally chaotic and exhausting, I love it!  My unconventional schedule gives me plenty of time off and offers variety week to week preventing a feeling of the 'daily grind'.  Over the past few years I developed an appreciation for some (but not all!) of my non-traditional shifts.  What are the benefits and drawbacks of each?

The Night Shift

The thought of working overnight is daunting.  You mean I have to stay up ALL night?  What if I fall asleep on the job?  I have to admit, I really don't like the 12 hour overnight shift.  Even if I only have to pull an all-nighter a few days a month it really ruins my sleep schedule.  Switching back and forth from nights to days is not natural.  I find myself using uppers and downers- energy drinks and Ambien to help regulate my sleep pattern.  Thankfully, my workplace also offers an eight hour alternative- 6pm to 2am.  I love the 6pm to 2am shift.  I feel like I can achieve two day's worth of activities all in the same 24 hour period.  Staying up until 2am is not difficult and I don't feel the need to nap during the day.  I have all day to relax, run errands and lunch with friends.  Then, I go to work and make some money.  Talk about a productive day!  

Aside from the wacky sleep schedule which can lead to sheer exhaustion, the major drawback of working any sort of evening or nighttime hours is social isolation.  If you work while others sleep, it can be difficult to find time to spend with friends and family.  You are also left with a lot of alone time during the day.  This can be nice on occasion but gets old after awhile (as evidenced by my creation of a blog to fill my daytime alone hours).  Does the night shift offer any benefits?  If you are willing to work all nights you may be able to negotiate fewer weekend shifts or a more flexible schedule in exchange for working the less desirable hours of the day.  Hospital administration is usually not roaming around at night making the work environment a little more laid back.  If you work on the hospital floor, patients are more likely to sleep and not host visitors during the night shift making your job a little easier.

The Weekend Shift

OK, I will be honest; I hate working weekends.  I feel like my soul is being sucked away as I drive off to work while all my friends are meeting up for mimosas and Sunday brunch. The one benefit of the working weekends?  It allows you days off during the traditional work week.  You can get all of your weekly errands accomplished in nearly half the time.  Kroger is so much more relaxing and less crowded on Wednesday rather than Sunday evening (just make sure you know which day of the week is senior day; the grocery store is not relaxing when waiting in line as 85 year olds are writing checks for three dollar purchases).  For NP's with kids, weekends can also offer savings on childcare.  If you have kids and your significant other works a traditional weekday schedule, you can simply trade child-related responsibilities on the weekend saving thousands of dollars each year in childcare expenses. 

Holiday Shift

Ugh, working holidays can also be a bit of a drag for obvious reasons.  Is there an upside?  $$$.  Usually on holidays you can make double your usual hourly rate.  Patient volume is frequently lower on holidays meaning you can make double the money for doing half the work.  Not a bad deal.  If your shifts are short, working on an important day may not be that inconvenient especially considering the extra income you can quickly rack up. 

As a nurse practitioner, do you work odd hours?  What positives and negatives have you experienced as a result of working unconventional shifts?  How has it helped you tailor your career to fit the lifestyle you have always wanted?