FAQ: What Is a Typical Nurse Schedule

Updated June 24, 2022

Nurses play a vital role in the health care industry, caring for patients of all ages and conditions. Because health care must be available at all hours, health care workers often work nontraditional schedules. These schedules come with benefits and drawbacks, and you should consider these features as you look into a career in nursing. In this article, we discuss what a typical nurse schedule is and the advantages and disadvantages of each type of schedule.

Related: "Should I Be a Nurse?" Factors To Consider

What is a typical nurse schedule?

A typical nurse schedule depends on the health care setting in which nurses work. There are several main types of schedules that can differ based on number of hours, number of shifts and on-call expectations. Here are some examples of full-time nursing schedules that vary between 36-40 hours per week:

  • Three 12-hour shifts per week: This schedule is common for nurses who work in hospitals, long-term care facilities and other health care facilities that serve patients 24 hours a day.

  • Four 10-hour shifts per week: This is a less common schedule that may occur in hospitals, private practices and medical clinics.

  • Five eight-hour shifts per week: This traditional workweek schedule is common in schools, private practices and medical clinics.

  • PRN: PRN is an acronym for the Latin "pre re neta" which basically means "as needed." PRN nurses work as needed and do not have a set schedule. They may have agreements with several hospitals or facilities that will call them when there is a staffing shortage.

Nurses may also work part-time hours by working full shifts fewer days per week, working shorter shifts or working only at night or on the weekends.

Related: What Is PRN in Nursing? Definition and Frequently Asked Questions

What are the advantages of three 12-hour shifts per week?

Working 12-hour shifts may sound like long hours to some, but there are definitely perks to this schedule. Here are some of the advantages of working three 12-hour shifts:

  • Work less: You work fewer days throughout the week, which means you have more days off.

  • Flexibility: Working three days a week means you can enjoy more personal time and scheduling flexibility. Many nursing positions allow you to request the days you want to work, so you can plan for days you need off without using PTO.

  • Weekdays off: Having weekdays off allows you to schedule appointments and complete personals errands outside of busier night and weekend hours.

  • Reduced expenses: When you only travel to work three times a week, you spend less money on commuting expenses and meals.

  • Performance: Many nurses are on their feet and completing tasks for their entire shift, allowing them to achieve a high level of productivity and feeling of accomplishment.

  • Rest: With the challenges of a nursing career, having the opportunity to recharge in between challenging days is important.

  • Shift swapping: You can often find another nurse willing to switch shifts with you since you're all working just three days a week.

  • Potential for overtime: If you want to make extra money, you can pick up another shift during the week on one of your days off.

What are the advantages of four 10-hour shifts per week?

Here is a variation of the shortened work week with lengthened work day. Here are some of the advantages of four 10-hour shifts:

  • Three-day weekends: Often, nurses with 10-hour shifts work Monday through Thursday, giving them long weekends every weekend.

  • Fewer end-of-shift duties: You may end your shift before schedule changes, meaning you may not always be responsible for end-of-shift duties, like taking vital signs and charting.

  • Time outside your shift on workdays: With a 10-hour day, you may not go into work until 11 a.m. or you may get off at 5 p.m., which means you can still have some personal time during a workday.

What are the advantages of five eight-hour shifts per week?

An eight-hour work day is the modern ideay of a full work day. Here are some advantages of nursing schedules with five eight-hour shifts:

  • Shorter shifts: Having shorter shifts can mean a smaller patient load and a reduced risk of burnout during your shift.

  • Free time on workdays: You have time either before or after your shift to complete personal tasks, be with family and friends.

  • Schedule stability: With a five-day workweek, you're likely to know your schedule well in advance. This makes it easier to schedule plans. Additionally, this schedule is often the most similar to your partner's friends' schedules, allowing you to spend your non-working hours together.

  • Setting: Many nurses that work five eight-hour shifts work in specialty clinics with less intensive medical situations, which can be less demanding than a hospital setting.

What are the advantages of working PRN?

You may get the opportunity to work as a PRN (or as needed) nurse which comes along with some of the following benefits such as:

  • Freedom: If you have other time-consuming personal obligations, working on an as-needed basis can provide you with optimal flexibility.

  • Variety: You may work for different hospitals, on different floors and in different specialties as a PRN nurse.

What are the disadvantages of three 12-hour shifts?

Having a workday that comprises most of your waking hours obviously will have some set backs. Some of the challenges of working three 12-hour shifts per week include:

  • Only working on workdays: A 12-hour shift often means you wake up, go to work, come home and go to bed, with little time for other activities or errands in between.

  • Physically and mentally draining: 12-hour shifts can feel especially long when you have emotionally taxing patients or situations.

  • Recovery time: Being on your feet and providing care for so long can require time to recover, so even though you have a day off, you may need to spend it resting.

  • Working on weekends: Many nurses with 12-hour shift are required to work a certain number of weekend shifts each month or quarter.

Related: How To Overcome Challenges as a Night Shift Nurse

What are the disadvantages of four 10-hour shifts per week?

The idea of a four-day work week in lieu of the traditional five may sound ideal in some regards, at least to some, but it too has its setbacks. Working four 10-hour shifts may present the following disadvantages:

  • Work most days of the week: You work most days of the week, which can be physically and mentally challenging in the nursing field.

  • Long shifts: A 10-hour shift is long from the onset, but often these shifts can stretch to 11- or 12-hours.

  • Less scheduling flexibility: Working four days a week limits your scheduling flexibility.

  • Midshift stress: Entering a health care facility mid-shift change can lead to a chaotic start to your shifts.

What are the disadvantages of five eight-hour shifts?

The idea of a five-day work week full of eight-hour days is pretty traditional at this point for most industries. Here are some of the drawbacks of working five eight-hour shifts:

  • More days at work: You work almost twice as many days throughout the week as nurses on other types of schedules.

  • Cost: You can incur more expenses for transportation, gas, parking and meals.

  • Less rest: When you work five days a week, you spend more consecutive time working with less time for a break in between. This may increase your risk of burnout in such a demanding profession.

  • Limited shift changing: With nurses on your team working five days a week, there is less opportunity to find coverage for shifts.

What are the disadvantages of working PRN?

Here are the challenges associated with working as a PRN nurse:

  • Instability: You do not have a set schedule or hours, so your income can be highly variable.

  • Lack of progression: Because you are not establishing yourself with a specific hospital or company, you may find it harder to experience professional growth.


Explore more articles

  • Career Exploration Activities for Students in Grades K-8
  • 9 Subjects You Need to Become a Lawyer
  • How To Become a Makeup Artist for Films
  • 12 Jobs That Use Calculus (Plus Average Salary)
  • 28 Top Tech Companies in Arizona To Work For (Plus Benefits)
  • How To Become a Professional Organizer
  • How Long Does It Take To Become a Nurse Anesthetist?
  • 8 Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education Jobs To Explore
  • Post Office Job Requirements
  • 12 High-Paying International Jobs for College Graduates
  • How To Become a Nurse Paramedic
  • Top 13 Cleaner Job Titles (Plus Job Descriptions)