EMS Shift Sweet Spot

This guest post was submitted by blogger, podcaster, and paramedic Jim Hoffman. If you would like to submit a guest post review the submission guidelinesConnect with Jim on the EMS Office Hours Facebook page or listen to the EMS Office Hours podcast.

How long is your shift? 

Mine is usually 24 hours these days and at times have even been 36 hours if staffing needs dictate it.

I have worked 8, 12, 16 hour shifts as well during my EMS career and I actually feel the 12 hour shift is the sweet spot. It allows for a good rest before hand and I think helps avoid shift burn out.

The thing is, I work the 24 hour deal since it helps me avoid two trips back and forth to work and saves me gas and vehicle wear and tear. Of course the problem with that is that it’s not about me – but the patients I respond to and treat. They are certainly getting a more refreshed and alert provider at 2 am when I am on a 12 hour shift vs. a 24 hour 2 am call.

Research on Fatigue and Performance

There have been a few studies on EMS response and provider awareness when responding and doing patient care, when a provider is working 8-12 hours vs. when they are working 24 hours or more in a row. They show that we are much more alert and can recall things like drug dosages, protocols and have more success with IVs and other treatments when we work less hours in a row.

Driving while Fatigued

It is also important to point out that driving lights and sirens when you are working less consecutive hours is safer as well. Actually, these days if you end up in a wreck with the ambulance lawyers will often focus on how much sleep and how many hours you where working when the accident occurred more than who had a red or green light. I think agencies end up allowing longer hours due to staffing needs and to help accommodate the odd hours many EMS providers work with two or more jobs needed to support the modern family.

Focus on Longevity in EMS

To me the answer is to focus more on longevity in EMS and provide better pay, benefits and career paths for EMS professionals. This can help to eliminate this need many of us have to work long hours at varying times and agencies.

Yes, working a 24 hour shift does have its benefits, but I find myself needing about 10 hours after a 24 hour shift to reset myself anyway, as opposed to a 12 hour shift where I can pretty much function just fine after it is over.

So, what is your shift length sweet spot? What do you work now and what would you prefer and why?

Connect with Jim on the EMS Office Hours Facebook page or listen to the EMS Office Hours podcast.

Resource Links

Thanks to Heather Souter, Primary Care Paramedic, Manitoba, Canada for these links