Nursing Hours: How Long Do Nurses Work?

NursingNovember 18, 2013

According to a December 2012 Gallup poll, nurses are recognized as the most trusted professionals. From their time devoted to nursing school to keeping up with required continuing education hours, these individuals put their licenses on the line every workday, making their trust well earned. The vast majority of nursing hours are spent in direct patient care settings, and their work hours are as varied as the expectations placed on them.


The work setting is the single most important variable determining how long somebody is on the job. For example, in doctor's offices, clinics and schools, nursing hours generally consist of daytime shifts of eight hours, Monday through Friday. Variable patient census numbers sometime result in being "flexed." In these situations, nurses are sent home with a choice of using personal time off (PTO) pay or not.  


No matter the facility's specialty, full-time employees on hospital nursing units typically work either three 12-hour shifts weekly (the days may or may not be consecutive), or in five eight-hour shifts. Round-the-clock coverage means many nurses must work weekends and holidays, usually on a rotating basis. The same holds true for most home health nurses and those working in nursing homes. Nurses who are willing to work unpopular shifts — nights, weekends and holidays — have no trouble finding work and are frequently paid a higher hourly rate as a shift differential.  

Administrative nursing hours

Like clinical nursing, the nature and location of the facility determines administrative nurses' hours. Most individuals in this field work in salaried positions, thus they make the same amount of money no matter how long they work. Although not a hard and fast rule, the majority of administrative nurses work during the day, Monday through Friday and in eight-hour shifts. Some supervisory positions include pitching in with direct care work when the unit gets short-handed. Independent case managers and consultants are the exception to the rule because they usually determine their own hours.

Job structure

Nurses in practically any setting work either full-time or part-time, while others may work as needed (PRN) and fill any number of positions. With a constant need for them, many nurses work overtime hours or even second jobs. Depending on the employer and state laws, they earn one and a half hours of pay for every hour worked. Nurses called in for a crisis or to work holidays can even make two hours pay for every hour worked.


Having to work on an on-call basis is common. The need for a nurse after hours determines the level of on-call staffing. Ambulatory clinics usually don't employ call nurses at all, while hospitals and doctors' offices nearly always utilize them. An example of a call pay structure includes a nominal $3 or $4 paid for every hour available, then regular or overtime pay for actual hours worked. Call rotates among the nursing staff. Managers may have to be on-call as well, but they aren't paid for extra hours.

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