Healthy Workforce

Ending the Conflict Between the Day and Night Shifts

Set them up for success

Two nurses obviously upset, standing next to each other in scrubs

Bad Behavior: Sabotaging the Incoming Shift
Culture of Caring Solution: Smoothing the Way

Each shift seems to believe that they do more and work harder than the other, and that the opposite shift somehow has it easier. We sometimes forget that care happens 24 hours day. Although there are differences in the structures of the shifts, patients still get admitted; unexpected crises occur; and medication administration, assessments and documentation continue both day and night.

Fights between nursing shifts are seldom overt, but while they may be more subtle, they can still be savage. Nurses on one shift may “dump” problems on one another, withhold information, nitpick each other to death during shift reports and endlessly bad-mouth each other.

The best way to put an end to shift wars is to change the focus from undermining each other to setting the other up for success.

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For example, try these tips:

Anticipate and Restock

There are few things more frustrating for a nurse than starting a dressing change, thinking that the supplies are all there, only to find that you’re missing a few critical pieces. You can prevent that frustration for the next shift by anticipating what supplies they’ll need and stocking them in the appropriate places before the shift change.

Of course, all nurses know that you should check your supplies before you start, but how wonderful would it be to know and trust that the previous shift completely stocked your room or cart with everything you needed?

Give Pain Meds Ahead of the Shift Change

Another common frustration for nurses starting a new shift is to finish getting report and then find that three-fifths of your patients are on the call bell, asking for pain medications. You can spare your colleagues on the next shift this headache by making sure that patients who need (and can have) pain medication have gotten their meds before you give report.

Nursing Education

Instead of wasting precious time and energy on pointless hostility and backbiting, ask the other nurses from your unit, “How can we set the next shift up for success?” Invite all employees for their input on what the outgoing shift could do to make it easier for the next shift to take the baton and run. Everyone, especially patients, will benefit.

RENEE THOMPSON, RN, DNP, CMSRN, is the CEO and founder of the Healthy Workforce Institute. As a speaker, author and consultant, her goal is to eradicate nurse bullying and incivility.


JASMIN MORA is a Los Angeles-based illustrator. Reach her at

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