When I first started my journey towards becoming a nurse I worked in a care home where the hours were 7:30 until 21:00. A 15 minute break for breakfast, half an hour for lunch and 15 minutes in the evening. If you have ever tried to have breakfast and a cup of coffee in 15 minutes (including the making time) please try this now.
But I was 19, determined, and doing thirteen hour shifts did not phase me. I would even pick up extra if they were short of staff. Money was pretty crap, but I managed to be fully independent financially (and dear God do I miss this).
I’m now in my third year of University. I managed two years without working alongside but this mean dad had to step in and help me out. I feel very lucky to have parents who are able to do so. If I was in a different position (like many of my peers) I don’t know how do-able this course would be for me!
However, having a job along side a nursing degree means working two jobs, one that doesn’t pay but is essentially more important. Ah yes there is a bursary. £500 a month to be exact. Incredibly helpful…
During my last placement (which I will be returning to soon) the hours were 7:00-20:00 with a half hour break for lunch and dinner. Because we had University once a week, only 30 hours of placment needed to be done. This meant two “long days” and one half day. Even this I was struggling with. My mentor kindly agreed for me to do only half days, which meant finishing at 14:00. This did mean I was doing 4 shifts a week, but did mean I had the opportunity to do more with my time. I wasn’t working my paid job during these 6 weeks which meant financial struggles.
Whilst not at University I have been working as much as possible. But only doing half days. Yesterday I did my first 12 hour shift since before Christmas and I feel broken today. I want to share why I find a working pattern where 3 days of the week are wake up, work, sleep so difficult.
- It is really hard to keep a routine. Essentially it’s only a 3 day working week so if you’re lucky one week could be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and youre done! But the next week could be Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Or it could be Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday. And because it doesn’t matter what you worked the previous week you could end up working Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I’m sure you catch my drift by now…
- Having a sleep routine is impossible. Everything I have read about having a better nights sleep includes having a routine. Waking up and going to bed at the same time everyday. Fantastic. But having to get up at 6:00 or 7:00 for work three days a week, on my days off, I would much rather not get up that early.
- Preparing meals means either eating ham sandwiches three days in a row or forgetting to prepare meals because you are too tired and end up digging about for the cup-a-soup packet and the bottom of your bag. At work this isn’t really a problem as we get staff food and once the residents have been fed we can grab a plate for ourselves. But on placement I have to bring my own food in. I like to eat healthy and often bring porridge, a salad and something like mince and potatoes. So thats three meals out of plastic tubs, three days of the week. Thrilling huh?
- During winter it can be even more difficult as when you’re heading into work, it’s dark and when you’re heading home, it’s dark. Hello seasonal depression!
- Coming home and needing to use about three bottles of moisturiser after a shift (especially on hands) otherwise you start looking the same age as the residents you’ve been looking after all day
- You’re taught not to become too close to residents but when they die it can be incredibly difficult. Because you are spending, probably, more time with them than your own family. And for many of them, you are their only family.
- Not being able to plan ahead is incredibly frustrating. Are you free on Saturday in three weeks time? Haven’t a clue, sorry! At work I choose my shifts so that kind of helps things. But when on placement, you do what you’re told to do. This means I might have to miss family events, friends birthdays etc etc because I can’t give them enough notice.
- To add to planning ahead, long distance relationships/friendships are near impossible. Schedules never seem to align. (Hopefully see you before the year is up!)
- As a full time nurse, or care assistant we get the lovely choice of either working Christmas or New Year. Holidays? Hahaha.
- Buzzers. Often I fall asleep with phantom buzzers going off in my ears
- The fear of forgetting to do something. With so much going on throughout a day and so much to think about, it can be fairly easy to forget something. Even if it’s just getting someone a glass of water. That fear eats you up while you try and relax and go to sleep
- Wanting to go to bed as soon as you get home. On a normal day this would be fairly early for me, but after being on my feet for hours on end the first thing I want to do is crawl to bed. But my uniform needs washed, I need washed, there’s probably dishes that need washed etc etc etc.
- Probably being the grumpiest person once home. Spending the whole day being nice and having patience means once home it’s exhausting to keep this up. Sorry A.
- Days off are usually spent catching up on cleaning, those dishes you swear you would do the other night, buying food for work, or wanting to sleep all day. I don’t understand people who have the energy to do loads of stuff on their days off!
- Not everyone understands how difficult it can be. I’m sorry, but you don’t. Unless you’ve done it, nothing I say can explain how sore you feel (even doing correct manual handling – some patients can be double, tripple your size and you have to roll them about a bed because they have been incontinent and it’s gone all over their sheets. Great party trick though, I can fully change bedding with someone lying on said bed).
- If you Google shift work, one of the first things that some up is how working shifts can increase the risk of developing many disorders. Great. It can even be a diagnosis for many of these disorders!
- Tired, tired, tired, I am tired.
- Not being able to do things on a regular basis. A few years a go I wanted to start yoga classes, but because each rota is different the woman wasnt too pleased I couldn’t dedicate myself to the same class every week, so this put me off… It’s the same with swimming for me, I work 8:00-20:00, the opening hours of the swimming pool. What I mean with this is that many people can go to work and do “extra activities” the same day.
I feel like I could go on and on but there are positives for many people who work shift patterns. For me, it’s too difficult and I plan to finish University, have a year after to gain experience and then be done with shift work for good. Hello nine to five, I’m coming for you.
How do other people deal with shift work? Is there any tips and tricks that make things easier for you?