As hospitals run 24 hours a day, Korean nurses usually work in three shifts a day – eight hours each for the day, evening, and night. Due to the rotation of the shifts, having a regular work schedule is almost a dream come true for nurses.
If their working schedule goes night-off-day, they work through the night until early morning, hand over the work for about two hours, and prepare to start another day shift. Off time in between the night and day work is just a short break.
Incheon Sarang Hospital starts 12-hour shift, attracts more nurses
Incheon Sarang Hospital, however, tried out a different work shift system eight years ago. Throwing away the conventional three shifts, it adopted the 12-hour shift system for nurses just like hospitals in the U.S.
At first, the hospital introduced it after failing to fill up the vacant positions for three shifts. But now, all the nurses at the hospital work in 12-hour shifts due to higher satisfaction. Words spread among nurses that Incheon Sarang Hospital guarantees the work-life balance. Some nurses at other hospitals are even seeking to work in Incheon Sarang.
In the U.S., nurses usually work 12 hours at a time and three or four shifts a week. One group works from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the other, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Compared to the system of three shifts a day, the 12-hour shift is longer at work. However, the two shifts a day guarantee a long time off.
About 200 nurses at Incheon Sarang also work in two shifts. Just like in the U.S., they work 12-hour shifts for 15 days a month and take the other 15 days off. The shifting takes place at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The hospital prohibits consecutive work longer than three days.
“Nurses in three shifts hardly take a long vacation, but if they work 12 hours at a time, they can get seven or eight days off straight. This is why young nurses say the 12-hour shift guarantees the work-life balance,” said Lee Seon-mi, head nurse of the outpatient nursing department of Incheon Sarang Hospital. “The two shifts system allows nurses to choose the work time and off time.”
Lee said the 12-hour shift system not only made nurses more satisfied but improved the relationship between patients and medical staffs and relations among medical staffs.
“If shifting takes place three times a day, it is more likely to miss the patient’s information. But the new system reduced the number of shifting, which also lowered such risk,” she said.
From the patients’ point of view, they are happier to encounter the same nurse, whom they saw the day before at the same time, talking to them and checking their status, Lee noted. “Because nurses can see the patients for 12 hours, they get more intimate,” she added.
Lee emphasized that the 12-hour shift also allowed nurses to better explain about patients to rounding physicians in the morning and the afternoon.
The hospital said it planned to hire more nurses to give them enough resting time between their long working hours.
Samsung, Asan hospital follow suit for ‘quality time off’
To hire more nurses and improve their work satisfaction, Asan Medical Center and Samsung Medical Center have followed suit. The two hospitals allow voluntary 12-hour shifts for nurses.
Asan Medical Center began the two shifts system partially four years ago. Now, nurses can volunteer to work on a 12-hour basis.
The two shifts system is available at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and the intensive care unit. Those who want longer off time due to various reasons such as childcare apply for 12-hour shifts, Asan Medical Center said. As they work three days a week, they can use their own off time for going to a graduate school or basking in hobbies.
“For nurses’ leisure time or family time, we started the two shifts system,” said an official at Asan Medical Center. “We are running it at the intensive care unit and some teams at the pediatric intensive care unit.”
In Samsung Medical Center, the two shifts system at some departments began two years ago.
Out of 1,400 nurses in shifts, about 200 are working under 12-hour shifts. The two shifts system is running at the operation room and NICU. The system is also available at some wards.
The 12-hour shift system not only gave quality resting time to nurses but improved their performance, Samsung Medical Center said.
A nurse, who worked at Samsung Medical Center in two shifts, said she had a sweet off time two years ago when the hospital was operating a trial 12-hour shift system.
Under the three shifts system, she had only 30 minutes for a meal. But in two shifts, she had one hour off for a meal and rest.
At that time, she worked day shifts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for two days, shifts from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for two nights, and took four days off.
The nurse said she was able to learn more about patients because she was caring for patients for 12 hours.
“As the system improved the continuity of nursing work, patients can receive medical services from the nurses who know them better,” she added.
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