Nursing is a demanding profession with schedules that vary by facility and job demands. Let’s explore different types of nurse schedules, plus their pros and cons.

Table of contents
  1. What Are the Different Types of Nursing Schedules?
  2. 1. Nursing Schedules Based on Shift Length
  3. 2. Nursing Schedules Based on Flexibility Needs
  4. 4. Nursing Schedules Based on Specialized Roles
  5. Tips for Managing Nursing Schedules Effectively
  6. Bottom Line on Nurse Schedules

Managing nursing schedules involves balancing efficiency and staff wellness—often with the need for around-the-clock coverage.

Ineffective scheduling can lead to nurse burnout, compromised patient care, and more.

There are various nursing schedules, each with pros and cons. Below, we examine these to help you find the most suitable arrangement for your needs.

Key Takeaways

  • Nurse schedules include fixed, rotating, on-call, PRN, and Baylor schedules. Each offers unique benefits and challenges.
  • Effective nursing schedule management is crucial for balancing the intense demands of healthcare with staff well-being.
  • Tips for implementing nursing schedules include giving your nurses a voice in their schedules and using effective scheduling software.

What Are the Different Types of Nursing Schedules?

Nursing schedules vary widely to meet the demands of different healthcare environments. In private practices or clinics, nurses might work standard 8:00 am-5:00 pm workweeks. For hospitals and other round-the-clock care facilities, common schedules include shifts of five 8-hour days, four 10-hour days, or three 12-hour days per week. 

Additionally, some nurses may work rotating shifts, be on call, work as needed (PRN), follow seasonal schedules, cover weekends through Baylor shifts, or schedule their own shifts. 

How Many Days Do Nurses Work?

The number of days nurses work per week varies depending on the type of schedule and shift pattern their employer uses.

Commonly, nurses work 3-5 days per week across all days of the week. 

1. Nursing Schedules Based on Shift Length

Five 8-hour workdays/shifts

5 days * 8 hours = 40 hours/week + 2 days off

While nurses in private practices most commonly work five 8-hour days following a conventional Monday-Friday schedule, other nurses—including hospital nurses—also sometimes work five 8-hour shifts a week. 

Pros and cons:

  • Predictable coverage ensures consistent staffing throughout the week, simplifying scheduling and operations.
  • Some nurses might prefer the shorter shifts, potentially improving job satisfaction and retention.
  • The increased commuting frequency for nurses might negatively impact their job satisfaction.
  • In 24/7 settings, frequent shift changes can lead to more handovers, potentially affecting communication and patient care.

One student nurse said, “I prefer 8 hours. Yes, it takes up 5 days of my week but it’s a week pattern I’m used to. If I’m on earlies, it means I finish at 3.15 and still have time to do other things like book appointments after 3.” 

🏥 Suitable for: This pattern is prevalent in private practices, outpatient settings, and some hospitals.

Four 10-hour shifts

AOffMorning7am-5pmMorning7am-5pmMorning7am-5pmDay7am-5pm OffOff
COffNoon12pm-10pmNoon12pm-10pmNoon12pm-10pmNoon12pm-10pmOff Off
4 days * 10 hours = 40 hours/week + 3 days off

Four 10-hour shifts—a type of compressed workweek—provides nurses with an extra day off compared to the traditional 5-day workweek while still giving them standard full-time hours. Employers that use this shift pattern often have multiple teams of nurses to provide coverage.

Pros and cons:

  • These shifts provide extended daily coverage with fewer days worked, improving operational efficiency.
  • Longer shifts allow for more days off, which can enhance staff work-life balance and reduce burnout.
  • Longer hours can lead to increased fatigue, potentially affecting performance and patient care.
  • In 24/7 settings, 10-hour shifts are more difficult to coordinate than 8 or 12-hour shifts because they don’t align neatly with the 24-hour day. The schedules often require 6 teams to ensure 24/7 coverage.

🏥 Suitable for: These shift schedules allowing for longer but fewer working days in settings that require extended daily operations but not 24/7 coverage, like some specialized clinics or surgical centers. Some 24/7 settings might use this schedule for around-the-clock coverage.

Three 12-hour shifts

ADay7am-7pm Day7am-7pmDay7am-7pmOffOffOffOff
BNight7pm-7am Night7pm-7amNight7pm-7amOffOffOffOff
3 days * 12 hours = 36 hours/week + 4 days off

A typical nurse schedule is three 12-hour shifts per week. It’s most popular in hospitals and other acute care settings. This schedule allows nurses to work 3 days a week and get 4 days off—for example, by working Monday-Wednesday and getting Thursday-Sunday off.

The 24-hour day is often divided into 2 or three 12-hour shifts, for example:

  • Day shift: 7:00 am – 7:00 pm
  • Night shift: 7:00 pm – 7:00 am
  • Swing shift: 1:00 am – 11:00 pm

Oftentimes, nurses will work 3 consecutive shifts followed by 4 consecutive days off.

🧠 Did You Know?

Since nurses working these schedules work just 36 hours per week, some hospitals require them to add an 8-hour shift split between 2 weeks to meet the typical 40-hour workweek.

Pros and cons:

  • These shifts provide comprehensive daily coverage with fewer days worked, enhancing operational efficiency.
  • More consecutive days off can improve your nurse’s work-life balance and job satisfaction.
  • Long shifts can lead to increased fatigue, potentially impacting performance and patient care quality.
  • Trying to cover absences or ensuring that all shifts are staffed appropriately—without causing overtime or overwork for other staff members—can be difficult.

One nurse wrote: I hate [12-hour shifts]. I’m just so tired by the end of it all. And with my kids, I feel like I barely am home and I need to do the bedtime grind and don’t get any time with them. Even getting home an hour earlier helps. It’s just not enough of a break for me. I have difficulty sleeping already. I just cannot.

🏥 Suitable for: Twelve-hour shifts are common in hospitals, especially in intensive care and emergency departments. These offer nurses more days off and continuity of care with fewer handovers.

📚 This Might Interest You:

Read our in-depth guide on different types of 24-hour shift schedules.

2. Nursing Schedules Based on Flexibility Needs

Rotating schedules

Rotating shift schedules are often used for continuous 24/7 coverage in healthcare. They involve nurses alternating between day, evening, and night shifts. The schedule’s frequency and rotation period—whether weekly, biweekly, or monthly—vary by the facility’s specific needs and staffing policies. This ensures operational flexibility and meets varying patient care demands.


  • Weekly rotation: Nurses switch from day shifts in one week to night shifts in the next. For example, a nurse might work 7:00 am-7:00 pm shifts for one week and then switch to 7:00 pm-7:00 am shifts the following week.
  • Biweekly or monthly rotation: This allows for nurses to spend a more extended period on one shift before switching, potentially easing the burden of frequent adjustments. A nurse could work day shifts for 2 weeks or a month and then rotate to night shifts for the same duration.

Types of rotating nursing schedules 

  • Dupont schedule: Four teams each work 12-hour shifts (day and night). For example, Team A works 4 nights on, 3 off, 3 days on, 1 off, 3 nights on, 3 off, 4 days on, and 7 off. 
  • Pitman schedule: Four teams each stick to either day or night shifts throughout a 2-week cycle (fixed). Or, they alternated between day and night shifts over 2 weeks (rotating). For example, Team A works 2 day shifts, has 2 days off, works 3 day shifts, and then switches to nights in the next cycle.
  • Panama schedule: Four teams each cycle through a series of 2 days on, 2 days off, 3 days on, 2 days off, and so on.
  • DDNNOO (4 on, 4 off) schedule: Teams work 4 nights followed by 4 nights off, then switch to 4 days followed by 4 days off.

Pros and cons:

  • Rotating shifts broaden nurses’ skills by exposing them to various care dynamics at different times.
  • They ensure fair distribution of less desirable shifts, promoting fairness among staff.
  • Frequent changes in work hours can disrupt natural cycles, potentially leading to sleep disorders and other health issues.
  • Constant shift changes can increase stress and mental exhaustion, affecting nurses’ job performance and overall well-being.

🏥 Suitable for: Rotating shifts are often used in facilities that operate 24/7—like hospitals or emergency services—to distribute the burden of night and weekend work among all staff.

📚 This Might Interest You:

Read our in-depth guide on creating a rotating schedule.

Seasonal schedules

Seasonal scheduling is tailored to meet the fluctuating demands of healthcare facilities based on certain times of the year. 

Seasonal nursing schedules can vary depending on the facility and the specific demands of the season. Typically, these might include:

  • Extended hours: Nurses might work longer shifts during peak seasons to accommodate the increase in patients.
  • Increased shift frequency: During busy periods, nurses might work more consecutive days before a break—such as 6 days on followed by 1 day off.
  • Rotating shifts: To cover all hours, especially in urgent care or tourist areas, nurses might rotate through day, evening, and night shifts more frequently during the high season.

Pros and cons:

  • Ensures optimal staffing during peak times, improving patient care and operational efficiency.
  • Can reduce labor costs during off-peak times, aligning payroll with actual service needs.
  • Requires careful planning and forecasting to avoid understaffing or overstaffing issues.
  • Potentially increases the administrative burden to adjust schedules and contracts based on seasonal demand.

🏥 Suitable for: This schedule is used in regions with significant seasonal population changes, such as tourist destinations, or in areas with specific seasonal health challenges—like flu season.

Baylor schedules

With Baylor schedules, nurses typically work 12-hour shifts for 2 days (a total 24 hours) during the weekend. Oftentimes, they receive full-time pay (i.e., pay for 36-40 hours).

The exact format of Baylor nursing shifts can vary by hospital. It could be two 12-hour night shifts or 1 day and 1 night shift.

Pros and cons:

  • Provides extended weekend coverage, allowing for consistent patient care while offering nurses full-time pay for part-time hours.
  • Can improve nurse retention by offering a desirable work schedule with more days off during the week.
  • Might be costlier compared to other scheduling options.
  • Can potentially increase fatigue among weekend staff, which can affect performance and patient care quality.

🏥 Suitable for: This shift pattern is suitable for settings where weekend coverage is critical, such as in hospitals or residential care facilities. 

Self-made schedules

Self-scheduling is becoming increasingly common in the nursing profession. Nurses are given the ability to choose their shifts within certain constraints set by their healthcare facilities.

Pros and cons: 

  • This approach gives nurses more control over their work schedules, helping to improve job satisfaction, work-life balance, and retention rates. 
  • Without proper oversight, self-scheduling can lead to conflicts or imbalances, where some shifts may be overstaffed and others understaffed.

🏥 Suitable for: Self-scheduling can be useful in less acute care settings like outpatient clinics, where the pace can be more predictable and less hectic than in inpatient care.

On-call schedules

Nurses on on-call schedules typically aren’t required at the workplace but must be available to come in on short notice if needed. This is common in specialties where the patient needs can be unpredictable, such as surgery or labor and delivery.

Pros and cons:

  • On-call staff can help facilities meet unpredictable patient demand, ensuring coverage during peak times.
  • Managing on-call schedules requires careful planning to avoid overburdening staff and ensuring fair distribution of shifts.

PRN schedules

PRN comes from the Latin term “pre re neta,” meaning “as needed.” PRN nurses work irregular hours based on the facility’s needs and don’t have a set schedule

They fill in for absent staff, cover additional shifts during high patient volumes, or handle special situations that require more hands.

Pros and cons:

  • With PRN staff, you gain the flexibility to adjust workforce levels responsively as patient needs change—without the cost of added full-time employees.
  • The limited availability of PRN nurses can lead to staffing shortages during high demand.

4. Nursing Schedules Based on Specialized Roles

Specialized nursing roles often have distinct schedules. Here are some examples:

  • Travel nurses’ schedules vary widely, with assignments lasting from a few weeks to several months in various locations.
  • School nurses and nurse educators’ schedules typically align with the academic calendar, and nurses work school-based hours (e.g., 7:00 am to 3:00 pm).
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are often on call. They follow surgical schedules, and their hours are highly variable.
  • Outpatient nurses usually work four 10-hour shifts per week, providing consistent daily hours.
  • Surgery nurses commonly work four 10-hour shifts that align closely with surgery schedules.
  • Nurse managers and nurse case managers often follow a standard Monday-Friday, 8:00 am-5:00 pm schedule.
  • Telehealth nurses often have flexible schedules that can vary from part-time to full-time hours, sometimes requiring weekend or evening shifts depending on patient needs.
  • In-home nursing care nurses can have highly variable schedules. They might also have on-call hours depending on patient care requirements.

Tips for Managing Nursing Schedules Effectively

Managing nurses’ schedules efficiently is crucial for maintaining a functional healthcare environment and supporting staff well-being and patient care.

Here are some tips for managers to effectively handle nursing schedules:

Assess staff needs. Consider your nurses’ personal life commitments, such as family, education, or hobbies. Some may prefer regular daytime hours, while others might find night shifts more compatible with their personal lives or prefer the higher pay that comes with shift differentials.

Give your nursing team a voice in their schedules. For example, self-scheduling lets nurses choose hours that work best for them, boosting satisfaction and reducing turnover. Consider diverse scheduling options like 12-hour nursing shifts or part-time roles to meet varied needs.

Consider health and wellness. Evaluate how different schedules might impact your nurses’ physical and mental health. For instance, some may find rotating shifts disruptive to their sleep patterns and overall health, while others might thrive on the dynamic nature of such schedules.

Streamline everything with advanced nurse scheduling tools. Good nurse scheduling software helps you prevent scheduling conflicts, distribute shifts fairly, and manage time-off requests smoothly.

Keep the communication lines open. Use face-to-face meetings or digital platforms to provide regular updates on the schedule and solicit feedback. Use staff feedback to refine your schedule. 

Always have a backup plan. Whether you’re dealing with a sudden sick call or emergency, having on-call or PRN staff ensures you’re prepared and won’t overload your regular team.

Show appreciation for your nurses’ hard work, especially those covering challenging shifts. Rewards or incentives for night and weekend shifts can lift morale.

Keep an eye on work hours and signs of burnout. These might include increased absences or a change in attitude or energy. Check in with nurses at risk of burnout to come up with solutions. 

Offer continuous training to make sure everyone is up to speed with your scheduling tools and policies. This ensures smooth operations and empowers your staff.

Aim for a good balance between operational needs and personal lives. Accommodating personal requests when possible—including time-off requests and schedule change requests—can help retain staff without compromising care quality.

Experiment when possible. If your workplace allows, experiment with different schedules to find what works best for your team.

🧠 Did You Know?

Connecteam is an all-in-one scheduling app that simplifies nurse scheduling with features like hassle-free schedule creation, open shifts for self-scheduling, and easy shift swaps. Nurses can manage their schedules and availability right from their mobile devices.

Bottom Line on Nurse Schedules

Nursing is a challenging profession requiring schedules tailored to specific facility needs and work demands.

Various scheduling types—like rotating, and Baylor, and 10-hour shift schedules—have their pros and cons. You must carefully consider your team’s preferences and requirements to find what suits you best. 

To effectively manage a nursing schedule, consider using healthcare management workforce software like Connecteam. It simplifies nurse scheduling with features like mobile accessibility, easy shift creation and swapping, and a team chat—plus tons of other features for supporting your nurses.

Curious to learn more? Try Connecteam for free today.

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