The healthcare field is one that usually operates on 24 hour basis. Therefore the individuals who are employed in this field are expected to work in both daytime and night shifts. This in turn means that individuals who are searching for jobs in the healthcare field need to be ready to work on shift basis. Yet working on shift basis is not always easy. It can interfere a great deal with one’s social life. It can also have an adverse effect on one’s health: as it often entails having to interfere with one’s circadian rhythms. One therefore needs to have coping strategies, right from the outset. This is especially the case given the fact that, in many places, newly hired employees tend to be deployed to the most ‘unpleasant’ shifts.
To cope with healthcare work shifts, you need to:
- Make a habit of checking your work schedules well in advance: This will help you identify the shifts you have been allocated in good time. Then you can start preparing for those shifts in good time. This is important if, for instance, you are transitioning from day-time shift to night shift. In that case, you find that you will need to change your sleeping habits. And you are likely to have an easier time if you start adjusting your sleeping and waking time gradually, as the date when you are supposed to transition to night shift approaches. Then when the d-day arrives, you would have a smooth rollover from daytime shift to night shift. The alternative here would be where you fail to check your work schedules well in advance. Subsequently, you realize that you are scheduled to, say, change from daytime shift to night shift one day before the d-day. Then you’d have a very rough time, adjusting your sleeping and waking times all of a sudden. Checking your work schedules well in advance also allows you to make adjustments in your personal life. Like if, for instance, you have previously been on a daytime shift, which allowed you to leave your baby at a daycare center. Then if you are transitioning to a night shift (when the daycare centers are closed), you’d need to make other arrangements — well in advance — for the care of the baby. Previously, checking your work schedules entailed making a visit to the HR department offices of the healthcare company you work for. Nowadays (thankfully), most of the healthcare companies have web-based portals, where you can log in and proceed to check your work schedule there. So it shouldn’t take too much effort for you to check your work schedules well in advance, and start making any necessary preparations for changes in the work-shifts you are allocated.
- Prioritize your sleep: Whatever shift you are allocated, you need to ensure that you are getting adequate sleep. This is good for your health, and good for your career. Think about it: if you don’t get adequate sleep, you will be inefficient at work. And if you are consistently inefficient at work, your career progression will ultimately start suffering. We are advised to ensure that we get between 6 and 9 hours of sleep on a day to day basis. So that is what you should be aiming for, regardless of the shift you are allocated. Now whereas it is always easy to get enough sleep when you are working a ‘normal’ day-time shift, it can get tricky when you are put on night shift. But you should nonetheless do your best, notwithstanding the various daytime distractions, to ensure that you get adequate sleep even when you are on night shift.
- Focus on spending quality time with your loved ones: Sometimes, the shifts you are allocated to work will make it impossible for you to spend as much time as you’d want with your loved ones. In such cases, you’d need to focus on making the best of the little time you manage to get to spend with them. So this is where the question of ‘quality’ time would arise – where you try to spend the little time available in an impactful manner, to ‘compensate’ for the time when you have to be away from your loved ones.
- See the positives in all work shifts: Every shift has its advantages and disadvantages. So whatever shift you are allocated, you need to focus on its advantages, rather than its disadvantages. Like, for instance, if you are allocated the so-called ‘graveyard shift,’ you need to focus on the fact that it would allow you to be ‘off-duty’ during the daytime, when you can attend to your personal businesses. Furthermore, chances are that the workload during the so-called ‘graveyard’ shift is likely to be light, compared to the weight of workload you’d have to cope with if you were allocated day-time shift… So it becomes clear that even the most dreaded work shift has its advantages. On the other hand, if you are allocated the daytime shift, you’d have an opportunity to live a ‘mainstream’ life: because you’d be at work when you are expected to be, and off-duty when you are expected to be off-duty. Furthermore, being on daytime shift would allow you to sleep at night, which tends to be more restful (and hence healthier) than trying to sleep during the day… So whatever shift you are allocated, focus on the positive side of it, and you will have an easier time plowing through it.
- Try to get allocated on one permanent shift: This is better than moving from shift to shift. Having a permanent shift can allow you to plan your life better. And it is definitely better health-wise, in terms of the impact on your circadian rhythms. So even if you are allocated one of the so-called ‘undesirable’ shifts, but then you are allowed to work that shift permanently, it will be better than moving from shift to shift. But if you have to be moved from shift to shift, you need to aspire for a situation where you stay on the same shift for a reasonable duration of time, before changing. So that is where, for instance, you work the night-time shift for at least some months, before transiting to the daytime working shift. That is better than a situation where you change shifts on a weekly basis. But if the management insists on moving you from shift to shift on a week to week (or even day to day) basis, the most important thing will be to at least ensure that you always get adequate sleep.