Human error has been attributed to some of the most infamous disasters in history, including the Challenger space shuttle accident and the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor incident. A further look at some of these errors point to a disruption within the circadian rhythm, mostly caused by shift work.
There is no way around having shift work in the medical field. Helping patients get better and saving lives isn’t a 9-5 job, but there is a way to diminish the impact night shifts have on your body and subsequently reduce the potential for human errors associated with inefficient shift scheduling.
Let’s take a look at a few ways scheduling can minimize the impact on workers who work around the clock.
Consistency is Key
When creating the schedule, it’s important to keep physicians on a consistent shift pattern. This scheduling maneuver allows providers to plan life around a somewhat predictable work schedule. When providers know roughly when they are scheduled to work, they have the opportunity to create a sleep schedule to be rested and in optimal shape for work.
A consistent work schedule can reduce a provider’s shift work fatigue because then the provider has enough downtime to reset their body between shifts. About 15 million Americans say they work the night shift, and it takes the body about a week to get used to sleeping when others are up and about. Constantly switching back and forth between days, nights, and 24-hour shifts will lead to exhaustion for any provider.
Our biological clock plays a vital role to our overall well being. When we don’t sleep when “normal” people sleep, our bodies are at risk of developing a host of diseases, disorders, and syndromes.
For the sleep we do get, it is crucial that the sleep we get is quality. If you can’t follow the sun’s schedule, creating an artificial light schedule can help trick the body into thinking you’re getting a regular “night’s” sleep. Keep your bedroom dark with blackout curtains and keep your workspace as bright as possible.
Promote Exercise and Wellness
More and more larger employers have gym memberships as part of incentive packages and benefits. This promotes maintaining a healthy lifestyle which is crucial to providers who work irregular schedules. Ask administration if wellness incentives are offered or check with coworkers to coordinate regular workouts.
If your group doesn’t offer gym memberships, set aside time each shift for simple exercise or mindfulness–including breathing exercises–to significantly reduce fatigue.
Enlisting the help of family or friends is crucial when you work nights. Just like the scheduler, loved ones can pay an equally important part in ensuring providers create a balanced schedule. Together, they can craft a routine that offers as much consistency and downtime as possible to avoid work fatigue, burnout, or human error incidents.
Work with those close to you to establish a communication pattern that works for you and keeps you in the know. Shift workers can feel out of the loop and like they’re missing out on things at home, but family members can greatly affect that issue with regular dialogue.
It’s a sacrifice for the entire family when one person works irregular hours, but it is possible to enjoy a supportive approach to your schedule by taking the proper precautions. Request shifts that work best for everyone while making sure you get as much out of life while you’re off the clock, then coordinate with your group’s scheduler to keep that schedule consistent.
Optimal Scheduling System
Here’s the best part: scheduling software can help minimize the impact of night shifts. If you’re creating schedules by hand, there’s a lot of pressure to create a schedule that ensures patients have the quality care they need while also giving physicians a fair, balanced schedule to reduce the risk of human error due to fatigue and other symptoms of shift work.
A web-based scheduling software that is customized for your specific group and specialty is key to ensuring the well being of your patients and your providers.
Sleep-wake cycles directly correlate to on-the-job performance. Sometimes people’s lives hang in the balance and it’s literally life or death. Having the ability to have an optimized schedule at the click of your mouse benefits everyone in your group.
It’s easy to optimize your Emergency Department schedule with Shift Admin. Download our free guide for tips to creating the best schedule for your group.