Some nurses work just 36 hours a week. But those hours are sometimes compressed into three 12-hour shifts, sometimes on consecutive days. A 40-hour workweek might consist of four 10-hour shifts. Some nurses enjoy having three or four days off a week and believe the longer shifts lead to more consistent patient care with fewer errors. However, others find that the extended hours add stress to an already demanding job and actually increase the risk for errors, and some studies back them up. Furthermore, some states permit health care workplaces to institute mandatory overtime to make up for staffing shortages.
Regardless of the hours, nursing takes a toll on the body. Nurses risk joint and muscle strain from walking, standing and moving patients. They're exposed to body fluids and other biological hazards, viruses, harsh sterilizing chemicals and radiation from X-rays and other diagnostic tools. On-the-job injuries range from needlesticks to attacks by mentally ill patients.
The job can be psychologically draining, too. The desire to care for others and ease suffering that inspires people to go into nursing can also cause them to leave it. They may experience emotional weariness from being closely involved with people's suffering -- sometimes called compassion fatigue -- or from feelings of inadequacy and self-blame, a condition called stress of conscience. Conflicts between personal values and employer practices on ethical issues such as euthanasia and stem cell research can lead to moral fatigue.