The Different Types of Nursing Schedules Explained

nurse pointing at her wrist
Written by
Karin Zonneveld
Reviewed by
Miranda Kay, RN
May 7, 2024

Although most nurses prefer to work 12-hour shifts for three days and then have extra time off, the reality of nursing schedules is surprisingly varied. 

What are the advantages of working long shifts? What is the best nurse schedule? 

The truth is the ideal schedule depends on the individual’s needs, family composition, kids’ ages, and more. In this article, you will learn about the different options for nurses to consider while choosing a work schedule.

What Are the Different Types of Nursing Schedules?

Nursing shifts are incredibly varied. They can range from four to 16 hours, including shifts of six, eight, 10, and 12 hours. Working fewer times a week might benefit some nurses, but others might need short shifts to accommodate their work schedules to their specific situations. For example, nurses with small kids may prefer to work during school hours.

Overall, the majority of nurses work either eight-, 10-, or 12-hour shifts. Some nurse schedule examples include the following:

1. Three 12-Hour Shifts Each Week

Although you may find this surprising, most nurses prefer 12-hour shifts, typically prevalent in hospital settings. Some advantages of this work schedule include the following:

  • More days off: When nurses work 12-hour shifts, their workdays reduce to three per week.
  • Less time on the road: This advantage applies when a nurse’s house is far from work. Accordingly, nurses will spend less time and energy commuting to work if they only have to go three times a week.
  • More time with a patient: Continuity of care can improve when nurses tend to the same patient for 12 hours. Furthermore, when only two nurses are responsible for a patient in a 24-hour period, there are fewer opportunities for miscommunication during handovers.

Additionally, longer shifts might be easier to coordinate when most nurses in a facility have the same shift length. On the other hand, these are some potential disadvantages:

  • More fatigue: Long shifts can completely drain a nurse. Sometimes, nurses have to stay after a 12-hour shift waiting for the next nurse to arrive, or nurses may even have to pull a double shift when there are last-minute cancellations. These longer shifts naturally cause more fatigue for nurses.
  • More time required to re-energize: Depending on the person’s age, energy levels, and how many days in a row a nurse worked, recharging after 12-hour shifts may be challenging. Some nurses might need some time to adjust to these kinds of shifts.
  • Increased error potential: Working 12-hour shifts might weaken the performance of some nurses. Overall, every nurse must decide if working long shifts might be too draining for them, thinking about the patient’s wellbeing at all times.

Some nurses prefer working their three 12-hour shifts consecutively. In contrast, some like to work two days (for example, Monday and Tuesday), have two days to recharge until their third day (in this example, Friday), and then have two more rest days before beginning work again. This way, they can have two “weekends” in one week.Given that three 12-hour shifts a week only make 36 hours (instead of 40 hours a week), some facilities might opt to call in nurses for an extra 8-hour shift every two weeks, but this varies according to the facility and the nurse’s contract.

2. Four 12-Hour Shifts and Four Days Off

Having four 12-hour shifts and four days off is another nurse shift schedule for 12-hour shifts that some nurses prefer. Although these kinds of shifts are popular in some hospital settings, some nurses choose to have a constant weekly schedule, as an alternating schedule makes having a routine harder. Nonetheless, the four 12-hour shifts schedule for nurses might work for someone who enjoys having more days off at a time to recharge.

3. Four 10-Hour Shifts Each Week

Another type of registered nurse work schedule is the 10-hour shift. Overall, in this type of schedule, nurses work four days a week for a total of 40 hours and then have three days off. Some advantages include the following:

  • Less tiring: Although it is still a long shift, some nurses find it less tiring than a 12-hour shift.
  • Longer weekend: When working only four days, nurses have three days off, thus a longer weekend or an extra day in the week.
  • Reduced commute: The reduced time nurses spend on the road also applies to 10-hour shifts, as nurses won’t have to commute to work five times a week.

Some nurses find that working 10-hour shifts enhances their productivity. Nevertheless, some disadvantages of these shifts include the following:

  • Scheduling gaps: Depending on the facility, 10-hour shifts may leave gaps in nursing schedules. When a nurse working a 10-hour shift goes home, there may be an hour or two when other nurses must take on additional patients until the next group of nurses clocks in.
  • Long working hours: Even though working 10 hours might feel less tiring than working 12, it is still a long shift, and not all nurses feel comfortable working 10-hour shifts. Additionally, when changing shifts, nurses might need to wait for an extra hour or two or even work a double shift if a nurse calls in sick, depending on the workload and the facility.

These shifts could be spread out during the week, but they can also be consecutive.

4. Five Eight-Hour Shifts Each Week

The eight-hour shift is the traditional working schedule for most jobs, and although it may not be the typical nurse schedule, some facilities use it, especially private practices and outpatient settings. Some advantages of working eight-hour shifts each week include the following:

  • Regular schedule: Working eight-hour shifts five days a week makes it easier for nurses to spend time with family and attend social events since they have the same work schedule as most other people.
  • Stability: Working the typical eight-hour shift means more stability during the week.
  • Better sleep patterns: Nurses who know their shifts and working times in advance can develop better sleeping patterns to adapt to the situation.

Additionally, most facilities that offer eight-hour shifts don’t have night shifts. However, some drawbacks include the following:

  • Fewer days off: Working five times a week leaves nurses with the weekend off but no days off during the week. Thus, depending on the person’s preferences, this short weekend might be a disadvantage.
  • Communication breakdowns: There is a higher possibility of miscommunication during patient handovers when multiple staff changes occur in one day.
  • Limited work settings: Nurses looking for jobs at hospitals and other fast-paced facilities might have trouble finding eight-hour shifts.

Mostly, eight-hour shifts are scheduled Monday through Friday during the day, although some facilities might have evening and night shifts and change nursing shifts every eight hours.

5. PRN or Per Diem Shifts

PRN stands for “pro re nata,” a term in Latin meaning “as needed.” In the healthcare industry, PRN or per diem shifts refer to healthcare professionals working as required when facilities need more nurses. Some advantages of working PRN shifts include the following:

  • Earn more money: PRN shifts tend to pay more per hour.
  • Plan your own schedule: PRN nurses can pick the shifts that fit their schedule best.
  • Keep it varied: Working different shifts in different facilities helps to maintain variety in the shifts nurses pick up.

There are many advantages to the PRN nursing work model. Nevertheless, the following are some drawbacks:

  • No benefits: PRN shifts don’t offer employee benefits, like health insurance or paid vacation.
  • Limited hours: PRN nurses might have difficulties finding shifts sometimes. Nevertheless, nurses with the right attitude and organization can find enough shifts and work for higher pay than staff nurses.

PRN shifts don’t have a standard duration. Since they cover each facility’s needs, there might be shifts with short duration and shifts with longer duration.

What Are the Different Shift Types?

Nurses also have many options when scheduling their work time—for example, day, evening, and night shifts.

Day Shift

The day shift might refer to the morning and afternoon shifts, typically between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., although some nurses might start earlier. The day shift is typical in clinics, schools, hospitals, etc. Lastly, working day shifts is best for those who prioritize maintaining sleep patterns and working in fast-paced settings.

Evening Shift

The evening shift refers to working in the late afternoon to the evening, for example, shifts that start at 4 p.m. and finish at midnight. Healthcare facilities require nurses to work these shifts.

Night Shift

The night shift typically refers to shifts that start late at night and finish in the morning. Hence, most nurses need to return to their homes and get rest after a long night shift to recover from the lack of sleep. Since it is a hard shift, some facilities have designated places and times for nurses to take power naps and recharge.

Given the inconvenient timing, evening and night shifts tend to have higher wages.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time

Nurses should also consider whether they need to work full-time or if part-time is better for them.

  • Full-time: Working full-time implies working 40 hours a week. Overall, the advantage of working full-time is having a higher wage. However, for some, devoting this much time to work may not be possible, such as for nurses with kids or other responsibilities.
  • Part-time: Working part-time means working less than 30 hours per week. Although working part-time means earning less than full-time, it might be an excellent option for nurses with different commitments or hobbies outside work.

Nurses can also work PRN shifts, allowing them to schedule their shifts around other activities.

Related: Learn the difference between PRN shifts and part-time work

What Else Can Affect the Schedule of a Nurse?

Even though nurses’ shifts are already varied, many factors might affect schedules further. These factors include being on-call, having a low patient census in a facility, shift swapping, and overtime.

Being On-Call

On-call shifts are outside a nurse’s regular work schedule. Furthermore, on-call shifts might be part of a contract and have higher pay. Whether or not nurses work on-call shifts will depend on the details of their contracts. These shifts are also more common in certain nursing specialties, such as cath lab nursing.

Low Patient Census

A low census in healthcare means there are fewer patients than the facility’s capacity. In a low patient census situation, nurses may experience modifications to their schedules and even cancellations, so nurses may have fewer work hours than planned. Again, depending on the contract, facilities might offer nurses compensation for canceled shifts.

Shift Swapping

Shift swapping means exchanging a shift with another nurse, sometimes to cover emergencies or sickness. This exchange might affect the nurses’ schedules positively or negatively. Although shift swapping is common in some settings, not all facilities allow it without consulting healthcare staffing managers.


Overtime typically refers to working more than 40 hours a week or more hours than the time scheduled or agreed upon by the facility and the nurse. Overtime shouldn’t be mandatory and should be adequately compensated.

Does a Nurse’s Work Schedule Affect Their Pay?

Depending on their work schedule, a nurse’s pay varies greatly. For example, PRN shifts tend to pay more hourly. Night and weekend shifts typically pay more, too. Other factors to consider are the cost of transportation for commuting to work, the benefits some facilities give to nurses, such as bonuses, and more.

The Bottom Line: Find the Shift that Works Best for You

Working as a nurse is challenging, and a nurse’s schedule is only one of the factors that can make this profession hectic or chaotic. Nevertheless, considering different options and knowing what works best for your particular situation might make contributing to this vital profession and patients’ overall care easier.

One great way to find out which nursing schedule works best for each nurse is to try different options while working PRN shifts. Nurses can pick up different shifts and schedules and stick with the one that fits them best.

Nursa connects nurses with high-paying shifts near them in different settings and schedules. Nurses can pick up different shifts with Nursa and easily create their own schedule.

Blog published on:
May 7, 2024

Meet Karin, a dietitian and contributing copywriter for Nursa, who is passionate about compassion in healthcare, nutrition, and raising awareness and support for people with autism.

Sign Up with Nursa and Request PRN Jobs near You

Related Blog Posts

See All Blogs

Choose Multiple PRN Shifts on Your Schedule

Nursa isn't just about finding a job; it's about crafting your ideal work schedule by selecting shifts. Once you create a Nursa profile, you will experience the convenience of scheduling shifts in real-time.

Certified Nursing Assistant CNA - Assisted Living Memory Care $23.62 per hour
July 15, 2024
Est. Total
View Shift
00:00 - 12:00
Elk Meadows Assisted Living
Certified Nursing Assistant CNA - Assisted Living Memory Care $22.59 per hour
July 16, 2024
Est. Total
View Shift
00:00 - 12:00
Elk Meadows Assisted Living
Certified Nursing Assistant CNA - Assisted Living Memory Care $22.59 per hour
July 17, 2024
Est. Total
View Shift
00:00 - 12:00
Elk Meadows Assisted Living

See More Shifts and Apply Now

Explore and find where you would like to work

Search ShiftsPer Diem Jobs
Briefcase purple icon

Pick Up a Job Today

Find per diem PRN job opportunities in your area. High paying CNA, LPN and RN and many more are now available now.

Join Nursa
Building Purple Icon

Post Your Jobs Today

Facilities who use Nursa fill 3 times as many open per diem shifts, on average, compared to trying to fill the shifts themselves.

Post Jobs
Nursa is no 1 mobile app for clinicians

Download the App Now

App store Button
Google Play button