With a master’s in nurse anesthesia, one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, you could contribute to surgical procedures in the role of nurse anesthetist. Since nurse anesthetists consult with patients prior to surgery, administer anesthesia during surgery and check on patients during post-operative recovery, it’s reasonable to wonder if they work the same hours as a surgeon. Some nurse anesthetists do, but others don’t. Factors that determine your work schedule as a nurse anesthetist include your work environment and the hours and policies of individual employers. Depending on these and other factors, you might end up working regular business hours, working 12-hour shifts or working 24-hour shifts.
What Determines a Nurse Anesthetist’s Schedule
Nurse anesthetists work at a surprisingly broad array of healthcare facilities. While many nurse anesthetists work in hospitals, others work in outpatient surgical centers, birthing centers and even dental offices, according to The Houston Chronicle. The type of facility in which you work has a big impact on your work schedule. When you work in an office or an outpatient center, your work schedule may consist of shorter, more regular shifts, since procedures are only scheduled during the facility’s normal business hours.
When you work in hospital departments that handle unscheduled procedures, like labor and delivery wards, trauma units and cardiac units, your work schedule may be more erratic. Babies are born and emergencies occur at all times of day, so facilities that handle these cases need to have nurse anesthetists on staff in the evenings, overnight, on weekends and on holidays.
Nurse anesthetists and other types of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), like nurse practitioners, usually work full-time and are occasionally on-call, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Working Regular Business Hours
The nurse anesthetists who enjoy the most regular schedules are the ones who work in facilities that aren’t open round-the-clock. Dentist offices only accept appointments during certain business hours. Likewise, ambulatory surgery centers that perform procedures on an outpatient basis usually schedule surgeries during regular hours.
Of course, what constitutes a regular work schedule is relative. Nurse anesthetists in these environments are more likely to work eight-hour shifts. Sometimes those shifts take the form of a 9 to 5 work schedule. Other times, these facilities may offer extended hours in the evening or on weekends that require nurse anesthetists to work somewhat different hours.
For some nurse anesthetists, the relative normalcy of the work schedule you encounter in these work settings is an advantage. However, other nurse anesthetists enjoy working fewer days a week for longer hours at a time.
Working 12-Hour and 24-Hour Shifts
For many nurse anesthetists, as for many registered nurses, nurse practitioners and physicians, workdays can be quite a bit longer. Twelve-hour shifts are common in the field of nursing, with between 60 and 65 percent of nurses working these long days (or nights), according to healthcare staffing company AMN Healthcare. Like registered nurses, nurse anesthetists may be assigned 12-hour shifts, often three days per week. Nurse anesthetists who work 12-hour shifts in an operating room may be part of a single long surgery or as many as a dozen short procedures on a given day.
Often, 12-hour shifts start and end at specified times according to the hospital’s shift change policy. Nurses on a 12-hour day shift may work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., while those working the night shift will work from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Of course, nurses can’t just clock out and abandon their patients, so there often needs to be some overlap between shifts. All told, a nursing shift that is scheduled to be 12 hours can sometimes stretch out to 13 or even 14 hours.
Nurse anesthetists may also work 24-hour shifts. During these marathon shifts, they may keep actively working throughout the 24-hour timeframe, or they may have an opportunity to sleep at the hospital while serving an in-house on-call role. While 24-hour shifts are grueling, the benefit of this schedule is squeezing your work hours into just a couple of days so you have more days off.
Whether lengthy nursing shifts are good or bad for patients remains an area of debate. While fatigue can compromise patient care, some studies suggest that patients have better outcomes associated with the continuity of care that comes with 12-hour nursing shifts.