How Many Hours & Days Can a Nurse Work in a Day or Week?

Are you considering a nursing career or already working in the field? If so, you may wonder just how much time you can put into it. From the crazy hours to long shifts and expected availability for emergencies, many intricacies come with being a nurse. How many hours and days can a nurse work straight? As it turns out, this highly depends on individual workplaces and state laws.

Keep going to find out more about what goes into deciding how long nurses work at one stretch. In this post, we’re taking a different angle. We’re going to answer 3 simple questions:

  1. How many hours can a nurse work straight?
  2. How many days can a nurse work straight?
  3. Which states prohibit or limit mandatory overtime for nurses?

How Many Hours & Days Can a Nurse Work

There are currently 18 states where mandatory overtime for a registered nurse is either illegal or has limits. Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, , Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, etc.

This article focuses on the generalities, but you must check with your state laws and workplace policies to ensure you’re following all applicable rules.

Nursing is a demanding profession, and navigating shifts can be tricky. Nurses may work up to 16 hours in one go, but many facilities encourage capping the change at 12 hours due to provider fatigue.

Nursing can be rewarding but exhausting, so finding the right balance is essential. An experienced healthcare professional must consider their level of fatigue and take days off when necessary—working no more than they are comfortable with.

How Many Hours Can A Nurse Work In A Row?

The number of hours a nurse can work in a row is usually determined by state nursing regulations. In some states, nurses cannot work more than 12 hours in a single shift and must have at least 8 consecutive hours off between shifts. In other states, nurses may work up to 16 hours in one shift.

For example, the California Nursing Practice Act states that registered nurses can work 8 or 10-hour shifts but cannot work more than 12 hours in a row. It is important to check with the state’s nursing board for specific shift length and rest periods regulations.

The most significant number of hours a nurse is allowed to work in certain situations, and most U.S. states, is 16 hours.

As a registered nurse, I’ve experienced the unique demands of caring for others around-the-clock. From providing brief care to patients during short shifts to shouldering full responsibility over lengthy 16-hour spans – my professional responsibilities have genuinely run the gamut.- Shares ay a RN- Nancy.

From her experience, the usual hours nurses work are:

  • 4-hour shifts
  • 8-hour shifts
  • 10-hour shifts
  • 12-hour shifts
  • 16-hour shifts

For a typical workday, the 8-hour and 12-hour shifts are the most common. Although some workplaces offer 16 hours of labor, it is only sometimes allowed due to safety regulations.

Although most shifts are usually 8 hours, facilities requiring 40-hour work weeks often feature 12-hour shifts. These longer intervals may be a rarity for most workplaces, but they offer an opportunity to get extra hours over shorter periods.

Working at a Veteran Affairs Hospital can be challenging – especially regarding shifts. Many nurses have had the unfortunate experience of working more than 40 hours in one week, with 12-hour shifts often requiring an additional 4-hour shift to make up the time necessary. Despite this extra strain on their schedule and energy levels, these courageous individuals do all they can for our veterans daily.

10-hour shifts are rare, yet many clinics love them. It’s clear why – with enough time to finish everything and still make it home for dinner.

How Many Days Can A Nurse Work Straight?

In the U.S, nurses are allowed to work a maximum of 12 hours straight, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Some states, however, may allow a nurse to work longer in specific scenarios, such as emergencies, when they are covering another nurse’s shift, or if they are filling in for a coworker. While certain exemptions may cause this timeline to be extended, nurses must remember that their health and safety come first.

Nursing is highly personal, and how nurses approach their shifts reflects this. Depending on preference or area of specialty, answers to scheduling issues can widely vary – for example, when tackling 8, 12 or 16-hour spans.

It’s fascinating how varied responses are in such similar situations.

8-Hour Shifts

Many nurses work 8-hour shifts, either in the clinic or inpatient setting. These shifts are typically well-suited for both experienced and new nurses due to the duration of the shift itself.

Typically, working an 8-hour shift means that you will be working five consecutive days, Monday through Friday each week (excluding weekends). In most cases, this is the standard for full-time employees for registered nurses in a variety of industries.

Part-time nurses may only work three, four or five days a week with 8-hour shifts.

When I worked 8-hour shifts, I set up my schedule, so I worked 10 days in a row and then had 4 days off (I was operating inpatient mental health nursing at that time).

When I worked 8-hour shifts, I had set up an unconventional schedule to make the most of my time. My shift would usually span 10 consecutive days, after which I could finally enjoy a four-day reprieve.

If someone chooses to work 7 days a week, they can do so, regardless of their shift hours or job type. This could mean taking on a part-time job in addition to a full-time one or even lengthening their regular hours.

12-Hour Shifts

In comparison, 12-hour shifts are also widely used in the nursing profession. These shifts can last up to 12 hours daily, an average of three days per week. Some nurses prefer this type of schedule because it allows them more time off and the ability to have three-day weekends now and then.

Although 12-hour shifts can be demanding, they are arguably more convenient and have advantages. For example, nurses working this type of schedule can get more rest due to fewer days worked overall, thus allowing for better focus on the job.

To accommodate the 24/7 work of a hospital, nurses get creative with their shifts. I remember when, in nursing school clinics, this incredible night shift nurse worked 6 12-hour days straight and had 8 glorious off days for recovery.

Some people love 12-hour shifts as well. It is much easier for a staffer or personnel manager to staff two shifts a day versus three. Less paperwork, fewer people needed, and everyone comes to a tidy 36 hours a week. Hey, low risk for overtime pay unless someone picks up extra.

16-Hour Shifts

The final type of shift is the 16-hour shift, which can last up to 16 hours daily. This schedule is usually reserved for specialty nurses who work in high-demand environments such as trauma or critical care units.

Working an extended period at a time can be challenging and taxing both mentally and physically, but it can also be a rewarding experience. I remember working in the ICU, and we had nurses who worked 16-hour shifts a week, usually working 2-3 days in a row.

To better serve the patients throughout their stay. These extended shifts are not for everyone, but they can benefit nurses who thrive on long work hours and are passionate about their work.

In most cases, hospitals will only allow nurses to work up to 16 hours in a row. Clinic nurses (private practice) typically will not work more than 8 hours daily. Scheduled shifts generally are either 8, 10, or 12 hours long and may not follow the typical pattern of the day, evening, or night shifts.

Which States Prohibit or Limit Mandatory Overtime for Nurses?

There are currently 18 states where mandatory overtime for a registered nurse is either illegal or has limits. Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, , Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, etc.

How many days a week do nurses work?

Nursing schedules are as varied and diverse as their roles. While many nurses work full-time with 36 to 40-hour shifts, a large population of part-timers devote fewer than 30 hours weekly. But the number of days they put in depends on where they work and what’s required by law, so it could be anywhere from one day up to seven. Explore some examples below today to understand how these scheduling differences can play out.

  • 8-hour shifts, 5 days/40 hours a week
  • 10-hour shifts, 4 days/40 hours a week
  • 12-hour shifts, 3 days/36 hours a week

Since nurses provide care to patients in many settings, labor laws change from state to state, and the nation faces an ongoing nursing shortage, there isn’t just a straightforward answer to what a nurse schedule looks like.

The Pros Of Stacking Your Hours And Shifts Together

Stacking shifts or working two shifts back to back in one day can allow you to make more money. You’ll get paid for each shift and be able to take on more hours per week. This is great to supplement your income or work extra hours.

This shift has the following advantages:

  • Increased wages: Working two shifts back to back can help improve your income.
  • Flexibility: You will have increased flexibility in scheduling, allowing you to choose when and how many hours you work.
  • Time off: Stacking your shifts together means you get more time off between them than if you worked separate shifts.
  • Nurses don’t have to use as much paid leave: Stacking your shifts together means you don’t have to use as much paid leave since you work fewer days overall.
  • I get more things done: Working two shifts back to back can help you do more in the same amount of time and give you a break between shifts.

The Cons Of Stacking Your Hours And Shifts Together

Although stacking shifts can be an excellent way to make additional money, it has drawbacks. Here are some of the potential downsides:

  • Fatigue: Working back-to-back shifts can take a toll on your body and lead to fatigue, especially if you are not used to it.
  • Lack of breaks: When working two shifts together, there is usually no break between them, which can lead to burnout.
  • Stress: With more responsibility and longer hours comes increased stress levels, which can harm your health.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many hours do nurses work in the USA?

Nurses commonly work shifts of eight, 10, or 12 hours. A nurse’s shift’s duration may vary based on location, demand, and personal preference. Full-time nurses typically work between 36 and 40 hours per week, whereas part-time nurses usually work less than 30 weekly.

How many hours is considered full-time for a nurse?

Generally, 40 hours is considered a full-time workweek for nurses, although some may work more or less depending on their specialty and the hospital’s regulations.

Are there any benefits to working back-to-back shifts?

Yes, there are benefits to working back-to-back shifts. Working two shifts back to back can help increase your income, provide more flexibility in scheduling, and allow you to take less paid leave.

Can a nurse work a 24-hour shift?

Yes, it depends on facility policy; some nurses can work 24-hour shifts.

Can nurses work 16-hour shifts?

The answer is yes; nurses can work 16-hour shifts depending on their specialty and the hospital’s regulations.

Are 12-hour shifts better for nurses?

It depends on the individual nurse and their preferences, as each type of shift has its advantages and disadvantages. 12-hour shifts are better because they allow more rest days between shifts. Others might find that the longer 16-hour shifts give them more time to complete their work.

Can a nurse work 7 days in a row?

Yes, depending on hospital facility policy, some nurses can work up to 7 consecutive days.

What is the longest shift for a nurse?

“[Twenty-four] hours [working] as an ER RN,” a nurse based in Washington stated. “[Twenty] hours. I was mandated to remain after my night shift as they could not find someone to cover the next shift,” a nurse from Wisconsin replied.

Final Thoughts

There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to how many hours a nurse can work in a row. Each facility has different regulations, and each nurse has their preferences. However, stacking your shifts together can be beneficial in some cases as it allows you to make more money and gives you more flexibility in scheduling. Always talk with your supervisor before taking on any extra hours or shifts.

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