How Many Hours Do Nurses Work in The United States?

In the US, nursing is a demanding industry. Nurses work hard to care for patients and facilitate operations. Many healthcare workers are notoriously overworked. So, how many hours do nurses work and what can you expect from becoming one?

How Many Hours Do Nurses Work?

Most nurses in the country will stick to the 40-hour schedule every week. Unless you work in emergency relief or other special units where your hours can be significantly higher during some weeks and lower in others, your work hours are likely close to 40 a week.

Despite every nurse having similar weekly hours, the daily composition can be entirely different. Due to the varying structure of medical institutions, nurses are required to work different hours.

For example, if you work in a private clinic or a university healthcare station, you will likely work a stable 9 to 5 job while taking turns to have the weekends off.

Research facilities have even more relaxed hours as they usually don’t open during the weekends. So, you will have all weekends off and only work during typical office hours. Research facilities conduct medical research with patients and are required to have nurses present.

International facilities may have a section for research patients to monitor their condition. In those places, nurses are required to take shifts to care for them.

Bigger medical facilities such as hospitals will require workers to pick up shifts so there are adequate nurses around 24/7 to give prompt assistance. These places have in-house patients all the time. It is essential to staff the place with qualified healthcare professionals at all times.

Whether you work shifts or fixed hours, your total work hours will roughly be the same in both cases. But if you work as a specialized nurse, such as a travel nurse, your hours can fluctuate throughout the high and low seasons.

Travel nurses can be called to a job with short notice and work intensely for a certain period. The period can be a week or a month. You may not get any day off if it is a short project. The position fills the urgent need for nurses until the institution can find permanent staff.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Working Shifts?

Working in shifts is a normal style for nurses. Most positions will demand you to work in shifts to cover for the department. It is not as comfortable as having a 9 to 5 because you will work overnight but the compensation is often better.

Pros of Working Shifts as a Nurse 

Let’s start with the pros. Nurses working in shifts tend to get paid more than those with stable working hours. The benefits include both monetary and non-monetary compensation.

Since you have to go to work during non-typical work hours, most companies subsidize workers with housing benefits so they can rent a place closer to work. 

You will also receive transportation compensation, extra paid days off, better promotional opportunities, and more. These benefits help retain talents and reduce the turnover rate due to the tough work. Nurses are rewarded for their dedication.

Most shifts last for 12 hours. They could be from 8 pm to 8 am or 10 pm to 10 am, depending on your workplace. Since your total weekly hours shouldn’t exceed 40 hours, it means you will usually get two days off after every three work days.

This is a lot more than those working five days and only getting the weekends off. It is easier for everyone so workers don’t have to commute daily to work and have more downtime. 

Shift workers get a lot of perks to compensate for their unusual work hours. But there are also numerous bad sides to committing yourself to shifts. For starters, working in shifts is infamous for one’s health, both mentally and physically.

Cons of Working Shifts as a Nurse 

When the hospital is understaffed, nurses are often asked to pick up consecutive shifts. They may not get any time away from their workplace. It severely impacts one’s mental health to be stuck in their office.

Despite being an honorable profession, nurses are not as respected as they should have been. Shift workers tend to deal with a large number of patients at the same time.

It is inevitable to run into some disgruntled patients. They could be upset about the treatment plan or the hospital food, thus releasing their misdirected anger to nurses, who give them the most attention in the ward.

Nurses often struggle to gain the same respect from patients as easily as doctors or other healthcare workers. The lack of authority can lead to problems in the ward when patients do not obey instructions.

Unfortunately, most hospitals can’t turn patients away due to unpleasant comments. Nurses are still obligated to serve patients, despite the possible verbal aggression. 

The nursing industry is competitive as well. Even with a degree from a prominent school, finding a good job can still be challenging. Some regions are seriously underfunded, leading to workers being deprived of basic rights.

In these regions, nurses have to deal with the unorganized healthcare structure and even uneducated people if the government has not been promoting proper sanitary knowledge. 

Do Nurses Get Paid Well?

The pay gap is huge across the state. Salaries are adjusted to the state’s cost of living. The average salary for nurses in the US is around $82,000 yearly. In states with a higher cost of living like New York and California, the average salary is around $120,000 per year.

When considering a job offer, nurses should not only look at the gross salary. You should calculate it against living costs to evaluate which offer is better. Also, companies will provide non-monetary benefits, which could be more tempting than a higher salary. 

It is important for job seekers to break down the job offer to compare which one fits better. Choosing the right city matters a lot for your career goals. Some states are better for research, while others get you more international exposure if you are considering moving abroad.

Specialty nurses such as psychiatric nurses, pediatric nurses, and travel nurses tend to get paid more due to their in-depth knowledge in the field. You have to receive relevant training and work in the specialized unit to be qualified as one.

Psychiatric nurses can earn around $150,000 yearly. There is a high demand for specialty nurses since they possess specific skills that are harder to replace. Your work experiences also affect your page.

Nurses should experience a 20% jump every two to three years until their 10th year of work. By then, there is likely a salary cap. The only way to get paid more is to transition to a managerial position, where you can climb up the ladder in the management team.

Pay gaps among nurses in the same department with the same job title are uncommon.

Fresh graduates in the same department will earn the same, while senior members will earn according to their grades. Companies do not set individual salaries for nurses. They are all categorized by groups based on their job titles.

Each state has its unique nursing landscape and offers different packages. You should consult your school or headhunter to see how they will impact your career prospect.

Is There a High Demand For Nurses?

Black female Nurse in street with documents

Yes. It is no secret that there is a nationwide shortage of medical staff. The country is in desperate need of increasing public funding for medical institutions and universities to train more young nurses.

The healthcare industry is the fastest-growing industry in the US. A 31% growth rate is expected in the next decade in the healthcare field, leading to millions more positions. In the future, the demand for nurses will rise exponentially as the aging population problems worsen.

With the ongoing global health issues, states are also implementing more policies to retain talent by raising salaries and introducing better pension schemes. The overall package for nurses is expected to improve continuously as companies compete to get the best graduates. 

Research facilities foresee a larger sum of funding for their projects, leading to surges in demand for nurses. Every side of the medical field is prospering. Whichever specialty you choose, you have a high chance of getting hired for a good job.

Some states may experience a larger boom than others as companies scatter their operation. The healthcare gap across the country will be narrowed and more people will receive better coverage and higher quality healthcare services.

How Can You Become a Nurse?

Same as the job, the path to becoming a nurse is just as challenging. To become a registered nurse, you have to complete a four-year full-time course in a university or college certified for such a program.

The education program should give you exposure to both practical and laboratory work to familiarize students with future job duties. During the first two years, students rely heavily on theoretical classes to learn about the fundamental principles of healthcare.

Students may visit various medical institutions and complete short-term internships at various locations to gain hands-on experience.

During the last two years, students have had to complete mandatory placements at one or multiple workplaces to achieve enough practical hours. You should expect a minimum of 200 work hours throughout your academic years.

It is a must to attain the target before you can graduate. These placements ensure you have real-life work experience and skills to care for patients. Some schools may open up specific streams, such as psychiatry, for students to focus on a particular department.

Attaining a degree is not the end. It is just a start. A nursing degree does not automatically transform you into a registered nurse.

All graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN) before they can obtain a valid license in their practicing state. 

Qualified registered nurses have to pick up their licenses in their practicing state. If you wish to change state in the future, you have to update your license accordingly.

After becoming a nurse, continuous training will be provided in the workplace, either by the company or the state, to promote higher ethical standards. Thanks to technological advancement and daily scientific breakthroughs, nurses never stop studying. 

The journey to becoming a nurse is long and tough. The investment during all these years consumes you financially. Therefore, nurses have to be passionate about their job and have a greater vision of making the world a better place to thrive under stressful terms. 


Becoming a nurse is rewarding yet demanding. The 40 hours weekly can feel a lot longer. But when you see people happy about your services, it is all worth the pain. Do your research on specific programs to find out which nursing program suits you the most so you can shine in your field.

Share your love

Avlin is passionate about helping aspirants become better personal support workers. He is an entrepreneur and runs a clinic in Toronto.

Articles: 226