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Surviving Mandatory Overtime

Written by Julia Tortorice
Photo By: COD Newsroom (Flickr)

Photo By: COD Newsroom (Flickr)

All nurses face mandatory overtime. It is often a necessary part of the job, especially if there is an unanticipated emergency in your hospital's jurisdiction. We have all worked shifts far longer than we should have, and perhaps some of us have made patient errors as a result. I hope you haven't, but the reality is you probably have; I know I have. This brings about a very important question that everyone in our vocation asks: How do I survive mandatory overtime?

Before I answer this question, however, let's go over some statistics I reported a few blog posts back that discuss exactly how many nurses work mandatory overtime when on duty. A shocking 43 percent of nurses, when polled, reported that the amount of overtime they work in their jobs has increased. In fact, 77 percent of nurses put in twelve-hour shifts. Because of extended shifts and heavy patient loads, nearly 100 percent of nurses complain that they are already fatigued before they begin their shift.

These statistics are so frightening, because a fatigued nurse is a dangerous nurse. No nurse wants to make a mistake when it comes to his or her patients. Let's be honest, a mistake in our vocation might cost somebody their life. We don't have the luxury of making mistakes in our jobs as much as other vocations do. So, what can you do to survive long shifts and too many patients? Take care of yourself first!

You cannot care for your patients if you do not care for yourself. It might be tempting to keep refilling that coffee mug or overdose on energy drinks, but these temporary fixes cause greater fatigue in the end, so it's best to avoid them. Rather, keep yourself hydrated with fresh water, and eat healthy foods while on duty and off. You're a healthcare practitioner, so set an example by maintaining your energy level throughout the day with plenty of healthy hydration and lean, protein-filled snacks.

Another thing you can do is keep yourself fit. If you exercise regularly, your body is running at a higher metabolic level and your energy is sustained for longer time periods. We all get exercise while on duty, but the exercise is sporadic and not enough to bring about the benefits of a full cardio workout. Exercise regularly to keep your body fit and energetic. If you are on an elongated shift and you need a pick me up, go out and walk briskly around your hospital's grounds while on break.

Finally, you need to get adequate rest when you can. I know this is a tall order, especially if you're a working mom or dad and have responsibilities outside of the hospital. This being said, when you can sleep, do so. Give your body the rest it needs. We all need about eight hours of sleep a night. This is tough when you're working twelve-hour shifts and then have a family to take care of when you get home. Try to get as many hours in as you can. If you notice you are getting fatigued while on the job, take a catnap during your breaks to refresh yourself. Fifteen-minute power naps are helpful, as well.

Being a nurse requires a huge heart, the desire to help people, and the endurance of a tri-athlete. Put a trifecta plan in place in your life to help you survive mandatory overtime. Fuel yourself with proper hydration and nutrition; keep your metabolism up with proper exercise; and rest yourself when you can. Patient care is our job, but we cannot hope to do it effectively if we are too tired to perform it. We can survive mandatory overtime, but only if we put ourselves first.

Please see the following links to learn more about mandatory overtime in the medical industry: