Our take on finding the right shift length for your staff and patients

recent study examining the link between shift length, retention, and exhaustion has added fuel to the fire over the best shift length for acute care nurses.

At the Nursing Executive Center we receive many questions from nurse leaders who are trying to make sense of seemingly conflicting studies about the best shift length. The challenge with many studies on shift length is that they look at just one variable, for instance, the link between fatigue and errors (Rogers, Scott), or the link between handoffs and errors (Patterson).

And while it makes sense to look at the impact of shift length on a single variable when conducting a study, nurse leaders who are making staffing decisions don't have the luxury of weighing just one variable. They need to consider the impact of shift length on each variable—and find the right balance for their unit, facility, or system.

To choose the right shift length, nurse leaders need to weigh the impact of shift length on a combination of variables, including ease of recruitment, number of handoffs, and clinician fatigue.

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