In nursing school, they teach you a whole lot of things. When to call a code, education for a newly diabetic patient, how to save lives, etc. However, one thing they don't really prepare you for is the traditional 12-hour shift. Yes, nursing school is stressful, and you're often up into the wee hours of the night studying. But none of that compares to working your first 12-hour shift.
This past week, I completed my first 12-hour clinical shift. And let me tell you, there are several things I'm glad I know now. That way, I'll be better prepared for my 12-hour shifts as an actual nurse.
First and foremost, make caffeine your best friend. I know they say it's not healthy, you should have yogurt instead, blah blah blah. Yes, I'm sure yogurt and water would indeed be healthier. But nothing perks me up like four cups of coffee before noon.
2. Shoe choices.
Let me tell you, I've got some pretty good tennis shoes that I wear with my nursing student uniform, but no shoe was made for you to be on your feet for over 12 hours straight. I did not truly realize the benefit of foot rubs and bubble baths until after that first 12-hour shift. If at all possible, invest in some really comfortable shoes, even if they look like your grandmother's loafers. Your feet will thank you by that ninth or tenth hour.
3. Packing snacks
This is so important. Nurses (and their respective nursing students) do technically get lunch breaks, but bacteria and illnesses don't care if you're supposed to be at lunch. Most of the time, you are not going to be able to sit down and eat when you want to, or even at all. So as a precautionary measure, I learned to pack snacks. Keeping a little pack of almonds in your pocket will likely make all the difference. And while it may be easy to just chow down on a couple of Snickers bars, at least make an effort to keep the snacks healthy. That way, you're not dealing with a sugar crash later.
4. Sleep is actually important
I'm normally the kind of nursing student who can run on three hours of sleep and be okay. That is so not the case for 12-hour shifts. I got six hours of sleep the night before my first 12-hour shift, and I was still dragging along. And after I pulled my second 12-hour shift the very next day, I slept for 11 hours that next night. So while I think I'm big and bad and can run on little to no sleep, 12-hour shifts are definitely the exception to that rule.
6. Putting out fires
My preceptor liked to use this phrase to describe unexpected chaos. You make this plan for your whole shift, thinking it will go exactly like you think it should. And after an hour on the floor, everything has changed. Orders have changed for Patient #1, and Patient #2's family has asked you five questions in the last ten minutes. Patient #3 is now going to surgery, so their medications have to be adjusted, and you can't get ahold of the doctor you need to talk to, and you have to discharge a patient you weren't planning on discharging, and now Patient #2's call light is going off. You have to be incredibly flexible and be able to think on your feet, because it's very likely that next to nothing will go according to plan.
7. Unexpected moments
While you do have a lot to learn, and while it seems nothing goes right, you will have those little moments with your patients that make it all worth it. And it happens when you least expect it. It's when you find out your patient's family is dealing with a recent cancer diagnosis, and their way of coping is by asking you a bunch of questions, making sure their relative is getting all of his meds. It may be a patient giving you the only "thank you" you've heard all day, just because you helped them to the bathroom. Whatever it is, remember that those moments are coming, and they make the chaos completely worth it.