NEW YORK — Taking on a career in nursing can be very rewarding for those with altruistic hearts, but it comes at a potentially body-breaking price. A study by researchers at New York University finds that new nurses are predominantly working 12-hour shifts, and about half regularly work overtime hours.
The study also shows that nearly 1 in every 8 new nurses holds a second job.
Researchers cite changes in healthcare policies in recent years, particularly the Affordable Care Act and the resulting increased access to healthcare as causes for these trends, which have remained steady over the past decade. The Great Recession also delayed many nurses’ retirements.
“Research shows that nurses’ hours, scheduling patterns, and overtime have been associated with patient safety and nurse well-being,” says lead author Amy Witkoski Stimpfel, assistant professor at NYU Meyers, in a media release. “However, we wanted to understand what these changes in the global economy have meant for the newest generation of nurses.”
For the study, the authors analyzed surveys completed by more than 4,500 newly licensed nurses in 13 states and Washington, D.C., collecting demographical information and assessing the nurses’ attitudes towards their job. The nurses were asked specifically about their work schedule, shift length, overtime amounts, and if they worked a second job. The researchers compared four different cohorts of nurses between 2004 and 2015.
The surveys revealed that newly-licensed nurses work an average of 39.4 hours per week, mostly in 12-hour shifts. More than 13% reported holding a second job. About 12% work mandatory overtime of less than an hour per week, while about 46% voluntarily stay for three hours of overtime on average.
“On the positive side, we observed that new nurses appear to be working a similar proportion of 12-hour shifts as more experienced nurses based on other studies, and the majority of nurses were working the shift and schedule that they preferred. We also did not find meaningful increases in overall weekly work hours or overtime hours compared to previous studies,” notes Witkoski Stimpfel. “At the same time, our study did not reveal major changes in when or how long new nurses are working that could enhance patient safety and well-being among nurses.”
The authors point to previous research linking nurses who work overtime to medical mistakes with patients or injuries to themselves while on the job — not to mention a higher rate of burnout and general dissatisfaction with their job.
The study was published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.