Night shift nurses vs. day shift nurses

moonWhy does there have to be conflict between day and night shifts? Nursing is not a competition. Shift change should not be a battle of wills.

The night shift nurses tend to want to find everything day shift has done wrong during the day and point it out in shift change. Now why are they are able to do this? Oh, it is because they have all that free time at night when there is nothing else to do except play “Let’s see what that day shift nurse forgot to do?” Well, you are probably thinking I am just a bitter day shift nurse…well it is true I do work the day shift. I have however worked many night shifts in my career so far, all for extra money while continuing to do my regular full day shift schedule. I do have some idea what the night shift is all about.

From my experience, night shift is mostly about watching over sleeping patients until the morning, hoping all the while nothing too exciting happens. Now, I know not all patients sleep….this is never truer than in the ICU. I am not saying there is never any work to do on the night shift; there are occasions where patients crash and doctors have to be paged and procedures done. This is not a routine occurrence though, not like on days anyway.

I think all night shift nurses should have to spend a day or two working during the waking hours. This would likely make them see how much different it is to work when all the doctors round and all the orders are written, and the majority of procedures are done. Day shifts are rarely quiet or without excitement of some sort. Most visitors come during the day, we serve all the meals, and most importantly we have to see management more often…which just isn’t pleasant most of the time.

Having said all of that, I wouldn’t work nights for any length of time for all the shift differential in the world because I feel it is just not natural to stay up all night and sleep during the day then try to turn it around when you have a couple days off. Your body is just not made to work that way.

Why can’t we just all get along? Oh, because some of us work so very hard during the day feeding patients, dealing with visitors, doctors, management, and trying to make sure we do everything just right so that the night shift can’t find anything wrong that we will hear in report the next day….

  • 11 Comments...Your thoughts?


  1. Jean Goodrich says:

    I dont understand why there has to be permanent day & night staff. Why cant it be 4days on 4days off like other shift patterns; or 5 on 3 off or something, cycling in weekly or two weekly chunks. Rival crews or shifts will always rib their opposite number, whatever job it is. Nurses do far too long a shift anyhow & the pay is lousy. There would be more good qualified nurses to lighten the load, if the pay & the shifts were more reasonable. Junior doctors also suffer in the same way. There is plenty of well educated smart people who are out of work & could easily fill these gaps, with the right training & encouragement. Is it a way of running the health service down for some dark purpose, if feel.

    Well done all our brave & caring nursing staff & thankyou for all the hard work you do

    • nursewendy says:

      Well thank you Jean for your response. I realize we will always have rivalry, especially in a predominantly female occupation such as nursing…not trying to put my sex down, but we can be a bit catty at times. Hospital nursing is a round the clock job and there is just no way to split up the work without having shift work. Oh well…as long as the patients dont suffer our wrath I suppose a little conflict isnt that bad ;)

  2. Why can’t we all get along? Maybe you didn’t mean to just write a post complaining about night nurses, but it sure sounds that way, and right away that attitude puts me on the defensive as a night nurse and looks like a pretty good answer to your question. I work my butt off at night. So do my colleagues. Just because the night staff you work with nitpicks you, please don’t vilify all of us. The shifts get along fine at my hospital and help each other out. We understand that each shift has its own challenges and realize that we each have our expertise. It’s your blog, and you can say what you want, but I am offended by your post and hope you will reconsider your opinion, which seems to be based on one facility. Night nurses in many other facilities work our butts off with more patients and fewer resources than days, and we don’t often have time to sit around with our feet up, at least not at my hospital—and therefore I’m guessing not everywhere.

    • nursewendy says:

      Not Nurse Ratched, I wrote this post on the basis of my own experience as a nurse. And I have done night shift work as well and just could not handle the toll it took on me physically and mentally. I was just not able to handle the staying up all night, so I do commend those of you who are able to do this. I honestly meant no offense to all of you night shifters. I realize that not all hospitals are the same and that yes in some facilities people do actually get along…this was just from my experience. I am glad you and your fellow coworkers respect each other and work together well.

      I have to admit those times I did work night shift I was terrified to call physicians because I did not want them to be mad at me for waking them up! Believe me, I do know that there are pros and cons to both shifts and different responsibilities that make each one trying.

  3. Sean says:

    The finger pointing has got to stop. The last time I checked nursing is a 24-hour job regardless of your shift. Walking in each others shoes helps to lessen the conflict, but it all boils down to empathy and the realization of how busy EVERYONE is and can be.
    We all hate getting dumped on, and it never has anything to do with the ‘shift’. it’s just the day. Period.

  4. RehabRN says:

    I hope your night situation gets better. Yes, there are advantages and disadvantages to each shift, but it really sucks when nurses won’t do their jobs , barring no emergencies, and leave things for the next shift.

    It doesn’t matter what shift it is (and I work two of three on a regular basis), I do my work and try to leave the least amount possible for the next shift. Period.

    If I can help them, I help them and if they can help me, I certainly hope they will. I applaud the night people. My body just cannot handle nights. I had to orient on nights, and I wish I could do them, but I just cannot sleep during the day…and that makes for a very bad night nurse.

  5. Steve says:

    I agree with Sean. This constant bitching, back-biting and harping on differences is what can make this a very exasperating career field, at times. I know that there are no 100% solutions, but I think there is a reason why a lot of hospitals have a day/night rotation, and not just straight nights. ( I have worked both-I HATED the day night rotation…it just pounded the crap out me) Each shift has it’s down sides. On days, you have to deal with two meals, working your cares around appointments and therapies, to say nothing of having all of the managerial people and multiple doctor’s milling around. If you work straight nights, you give up regular sex with your partner(We’e adults here, I can be blunt), you are in a constant state of sleep deprivation, you have more patients to take care of, less support if anything hits the fan, the assumption by other staff members that you will have all kinds of spare time to handle “special” projects. I choose to work evenings because I am not a morning person, my kids are now 22 and 18, so I don’t have to be around in the evening. I don’t know, in the final analysis, a little empathy goes a long way-we’ve all been there.

  6. Mikael says:

    Honestly, I found your article highly offensive. You very much insinuated that night shift nurses don’t work as hard as day shift nurses. As a l&d nurse working night shift, there are MORE babies born at night than during the day, and I literally never have a break. There is a reason, at least at my hospital, that we get paid more for the night shift.

  7. Interesting posts. I’m lucky to work on a floor where, for the most part, Nurses on both shifts get along well. Once in awhile we hear a complaint about our night shift-diff from a dayshifter, but when we tell them to come work nights, they always say they’d never give up their sleep. I work weekend nights with the same crew – we not only give up our nights, but every weekend all yr long. If we need a weekend night off for something as simple as dinner out with the Family – we have to take vacation – we miss out on tons of weekend things people take for granted, but don’t complain because we signed up for this.

    Just for the record, we work our behinds off at night on my med/surg floor (we’re running all night), with usually 1/2 the Staff and double the pt load as the dayshift. The ER is open all night, we get constant Admissions, they don’t care if we don’t have enough Nurses to take care of them, if there’s an open bed, they’re sticking someone in it, Never Stops. We have lots of elderly pts with sun-downers, who are wide awake all night, climbing out of bed, bed alarms going off. I’ll be told in report that Mr. Smith is so cute, you’ll love him. By 2100, Mr Smith is suddenly confused, hallucinating, up all night trying to fall out of bed – finally falls asleep from exhaustion just when the dayshift shows up & they Can’t Believe this cute little guy gave us any trouble, geez.

    One of our biggest beefs is being told by Mgmt not to bother them at home at night with problems – just deal with it. But, they have no problem calling us in the middle of the day (when we’re sleeping) about stupid things that could be handled in a memo, or to remind us of classes/mtgs – also scheduled during the day when we should be sleeping. They know you worked the night before & always say, OH, sorry, did I wake you up? The dayshift would never come in at 4am for a mtg/class – but we’re expected to show up 5hrs before our shift for these things after only a couple hours of sleep. Dinner breaks are a joke – there’s no extra bodies around to watch our pt’s so we can go eat in the breakroom, so we eat at the nurses station while charting. Nothing like eating next to stool & urine samples waiting to go to the lab – Yummy.

    To Hawaii RN, I think it’s great that you organized a Unit Christmas Party, but I’m sure it was during the day (when the Night shift is sleeping) – which I’m sure is why they planned their own thing.
    Next time anyone thinks the nightshift is kicking back, surfing the net & eating bon-bons while everyone is tucked up in bed fast asleep, Think Again…

  8. Drew says:

    I like that this post has opened honest opinion sharing of the day vs night debate. I am currently a night shift RN and I work on a very busy Rehab floor. The question isn’t the amount of work it is how your timing works. Night shift where I work is given the priority of cramming patient care and education into the hours of 1900-2300 and 0500 and 0700 in the hope that we can at least provide a good 6 hours for the patients to rest. Having said that we do have time to sit with the charts and look them over a bit more tediously than on day shift. Night shift in most facilities where I work is responsible for performing a 24 hour chart check in which the previous days orders are reconciled and made certain they are correct. We also have fewer resources and staff members to achieve this. I have also worked days at my facility and know that there are some challenges because physicians hog the charts and family members and patients like to hog the nurses. I am conflicted cause I know both shifts work equally as hard and every nurse wants to give the best care possible. Having said that if a nurse on any shift finds something that needs correction I suggest first you fix it for the patient. Second follow up with the previous shift and use it as an educational opportunity because if you can figure out why it occurred you can effect change to prevent it from happening again. Blame is for children and that game can bring us all down. As nurses we strive to be recognized as educated professionals so when we fight amongst ourselves we only set the profession as a whole. I am very proud to say that I am a nurse and love my work. To the manager night shift isn’t hiding it is just hard if you set up a party for the night shift to make it as they may have many things such as child care, sleep, family, or personal issues that prevent them from doing social things like this outside the normal working hours they keep. This debate will surly go on as long as nurses are divided into shifts and there is no simple solution but I always say walk in someones shoes prior to criticizing anyone.

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