Enjoying nights at the hospital is a matter of perspective
It’s four o’clock in the morning.
You’re sharing popcorn with co-workers from an emesis basin. You rewarm coffee that was too thick and bitter the first time around. A group of nurses are laughing at something on someone’s phone, doctors are shopping online. The patients have finally fallen asleep, and you’re waiting for the day shift to roll in so you can go home.
Nights at the hospital are a different experience.
Whatever your role in medicine, at some point you’ll find yourself at the hospital in the middle of the night. You’ll wonder how this happened, what “normal people” are doing, and why anyone would ever choose to work nights.
But some people love working nights and wouldn’t have it any other way. They find the day shift busy, too high-strung or too regimented. Night, they argue, is simply a better time to work.
For those of us who dread night shifts, find them disruptive, and resent the people who schedule us—we need to learn from those who do it by choice. Medicine is a 24/7 industry that we signed up for. By adopting the philosophy of night workers, we can change our perspective and maybe enjoy our night experiences a little more.
When you work nights, you have a beer while normal people eat cereal. You read romance novels at 3:00 A.M. while other people are sleeping. Others are leaving for work; you’re just getting tucked in.
The flight leaves at 7:00 A.M.? Perfect! Board, nap and wake up in London, ready for the day.
Working nights gives independence; you are truly on your own schedule.
This is guilt-free independence. Friends give you a pass for “doing your own thing” in a way they never do for those with normal schedules. People pity night workers; they categorically perceive your schedule as torture. If you miss the social event or can’t make the party, it’s fine—you work nights!
Night shifts allow you to move at your own pace, on your own terms.
There is nothing more peaceful and welcoming than an empty grocery store.
There is no competition as you select the perfect bunch of bananas. You hear the meat being cut and the aisles being stocked. You needn’t slalom your cart between people to secure the last uncrushed bag of ramen. It’s an open store, just for you. The most difficult choice is which cashier to use, as all check-out lines are available.
It’s heaven’s take on getting groceries.
Holiday shopping, museums, restaurants, the gym—all of your usual errands are done in off-hours. Everyone else is at work, and you’re enjoying the free samples at the mall.
It is bliss.
You don’t really appreciate this until you flip back to days and re-enter the normal fray. Once you have to elbow your way up to the bananas again, you’ll miss the solitude of empty Wednesday mornings. As you collect the tiny fragments of broken ramen, you will find yourself craving nights.
Night shifts give you access to a peaceful world.
If you’ve been jet lagged, you know the experience: You’re trying to get back to your normal schedule and find yourself wide awake at 2:00 A.M. You need to sleep, but you’re not tired.
This experience is initially irritating. You feel like it’s too early to get up, but you’re too awake to just lie in bed. But if you work nights long enough, you start to recognize this experience as an opportunity. You’re not going to fall back asleep, so you might as well get up and do stuff completely undisturbed.
This is an ideal situation for people who need time to themselves. What do you want to do more of but can’t seem to get done in a day? Write? Read? Exercise? Meditate? Watch cat videos?
Do you want your family to wake up to a wonderful breakfast?
Whatever you want to work on, you now have hours to do it.
The morning is yours!
People who work nights and patients who come to a hospital at night are a little more colorful.
Workers on the night shift are less inhibited. There’s a laxity to them, coolness. They’re used to their own schedule. They value freedom and get things done on their own time. Working at night means they have fewer resources at their disposal—they have to be more independent and resilient.
It’s a little more rugged.
The patients that come in at night are also more interesting. If they come in for traditional reasons, they tend to be a little sicker. And if they come in for non-traditional reasons, they often give you the stories you’ll be repeating for years to come.
The unusual can happen at any time in a hospital, but if you work at night, you’re much more likely to see it.
Days wind up. Nights wind down.
If you work during the day, you experience patient volumes increasing throughout your shift. Patients arrive in the morning and come in throughout the day until after their work ends.
Hospital staff tries to complete their work before their shift ends—clinics, procedures, surgeries—no one wants to be there late. The busyness persists throughout the day.
When you work nights, your shift starts when the busyness is in full effect. But then clinics close, procedures are completed, and people wind down for the night, awaiting the next morning. There comes a point in the middle of the night where the patient flow becomes a trickle, loose ends are tied up, and things are left tidier than how they were found.
An empty waiting room – all of the patients on the floor are asleep and quiet, everyone’s been admitted.
There’s an endpoint at night. This gives the nightshift something to look forward to—a sense of completion.
Administration is rare during nights as well. No one is looking over your shoulder at 3:00 A.M. No local administration, no Joint Commission, no fire marshal, no surprise visits from governmental bodies.
Hospital accreditation is a priority, but not a middle of the night kind of priority.
The freedom experienced during the night shift allows for a much calmer environment.
Medicine is an around-the-clock industry. It needs people who can support it in the middle of the night. When that’s you, remember: some people love nights—integrate a little of what they love about nights into your experience.
Enjoying nights is a matter of perspective.