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Life as a nocturnal nursing student

I’m working night shift for my practicum and this is how it’s been going

Much to my surprise, I found myself comfortable with working nights after just a few shifts.
Much to my surprise, I found myself comfortable with working nights after just a few shifts.

As a fourth-year nursing student, my life currently looks much different than most other fourth-year students. In preparation for working as registered nurses shortly after graduation, we are in what is called practicum, where nursing students work exclusively in clinical settings in order to improve our skills in a real-life setting. We must complete 168 hours of patient care, which is traditionally done through 12-hour shifts with a preceptor — an experienced clinician who supervises nursing students during clinical rotations. It has been difficult balancing being a student in my last semester of college and being fully immersed in what my future is going to look like, but I have really loved the challenge and have developed an even bigger love for nursing. 

For my practicum, I was assigned to work on the Hematology and Oncology unit at the University Hospital. A few days before my first shift, I found out that the nurse I was assigned to only works nights. This means that I would work from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. — an extra 30 minutes to compensate for my lunch break. I was perplexed, to say the least. Prior to this, I had never worked a 12-hour shift nor had I worked a night shift. I was unsure as to how I would manage to stay awake the first few nights and how I would be able to establish a good relationship with my patients.

While nights have been hard, the patient population I have had the opportunity to work with has made it well worth it. I love oncology nursing because I get to be a part of such an intimate part of someone’s life and witness their resilience — a truly rewarding experience. I am about halfway through my hours and already feel as though I have grown tremendously in my journey as a future nurse. 

Outside of the hospital, working the night shift while being in my last semester of college has proven to be challenging. It sometimes feels like I am either working or asleep when my friends are spending time together. I’ve had to battle FOMO — fear of missing out — big time. However, I have been able to find a good balance by planning hangouts with my loved ones ahead of time and setting personal boundaries. This means I sometimes have to say no to hangouts with my friends in order to ensure I get adequate rest.

Much to my surprise, I found myself comfortable with working nights after just a few shifts. Now, 

I would be lying if I told you that I have never fallen asleep during one of my shifts. In fact, I actually dozed off for 15 or so minutes the second night that I worked, — thankfully that hasn’t happened since then. I have always heavily relied on caffeine and the same goes for this current period of my life. Coffee and Celsius — with a strict no-caffeine cut-off time of 4 a.m. — have done well at keeping me awake. 

My preceptor has been incredible in helping me navigate providing patient care throughout the night. He has shown me how he clusters his care in order to minimize interruptions in patient rest and that has helped me tremendously. It’s not easy waking someone up, but I have found that the little tips and tricks he has taught me — such as opening loud packaging or preparing IV medications before entering a room — have made it easier.

Being in practicum has been such an insightful experience and particularly so working nights. My knowledge of oncology as well as confidence in my regular nursing practice has grown exponentially and I am sure it will continue to do so in the upcoming weeks as I complete my hours. I feel a lot more confident in myself than I did before and overall feel a lot more excited to enter the workfield as a nurse. With all of that being said, It’s not so bad being nocturnal. 

Zoya Zahid is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at 


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