December 7, 2020

WGU's 8th Annual 'Night Shift Campaign' Honors Nurses With Gifts & Scholarship

WGU night shift nurse campaign

Updated December 7, 2020

To honor nurses during the pandemic, Western Governors University (WGU) recently launched its 8th annual Night Shift Nurses campaign, which aligned with the return to Standard Time when night shift workers added an extra hour to their normal schedule, working the 2 a.m. hour twice in a row, on Nov. 1. 

This year, the university delivered carefully curated appreciation kits to 3,580 nurses at 258 hospitals in Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, and Ohio. WGU also awarded its annual Night Shift Nurse scholarship to students in healthcare positions who work the night shift that is fighting to make a difference within their communities during these stressful times.  

State Director of Nursing, Mary Carney, is driven by a simple idea: that night shift nurses should get a little more recognition for their work. It’s this thesis that’s led her to give lectures on the subject at healthcare conferences and to create the Night Shift Nurse Campaign, which recognizes nurses, on the night of daylight savings time, who work late hours into the wee hours of the morning by giving them a care package and some much-appreciated attention. 

“The current COVID-19 surge is the greatest public health crisis of my lifetime. In the early days, recognition for front-line workers was abundant, but that has fallen off as we endure month after month of this struggle. Night shift workers are additionally impacted as virtual schooling and closed daycares have further interrupted their already limited sleep opportunities. One small ray of sunshine (besides the wonderful vaccine news!) has been the Night Shift Nurse campaign- which recognizes those ‘invisible’ night shift workers that the recognition programs so often miss," says Dr. Mary Lawson Carney DNP, RN-BC, CNE, State Director of Prelicensure Nursing – Indiana 

About WGU's Night Shift Nurse Campaign

We caught up with Mary Carney to ask her about her own experiences

  • As a night shift nurse, 
  • How she found herself advocating for night shift nurses, 
  • What recognizing them does for morale 
  • The real differences between morning people and night owls 

JU: When did you know you wanted to start the Night Shift Nurse Campaign?

MC: That started in about 2013. I was actually a student at WGU Indiana in the RN-to-BSN program and I was having a discussion with the Chancellor about night shifts, in general, and I said, “You know, no one ever really comes - schools or information sessions, or whatever - at night. Everything happens during the day.” He said, “Well, will you help?” And within a couple of weeks, we were doing an information session in the cafeteria between 11 at night and 3 in the morning and the response was absolutely overwhelming. 

People were grateful that somebody recognized their need and came on their turf. In further discussions after that event, I was telling the Chancellor how awful it is to work the night that the clocks go back because working 2 o’clock in the morning is bad but doing it twice is just, like, piling on. So, that’s how this Night Shift Nurse thing came about where we recognize night shift nurses - not only with treats and swag and that sort of thing but with scholarship money during the week that the clocks turn back. 

JU: What are the key differences between day shift and night shift for nurses? 

MC: Oh my gosh! Well, number-one, night shift has an almost complete lack of resources outside the unit that you’re actually on. In a lot of hospitals, large and small, a pharmacy may or may not be there, for example. The ancillary departments that help you with moving and ambulating your patients, they’re not there. There’s kind of an additional professional cost in that night shift nurses very seldom see the people who manage their work environment and evaluate their work face-to-face. 

I did a research study back when I was doing my Master’s Degree and I found that over 75% of the night shift nurses working in the hospitals that I surveyed had not physically laid eyes on their manager, the person that did their evaluation, in the last six months. There’s that opportunity cost for those people where there’s a lot of really great people on nights, there’s a lot of talent and a lot of experience and it’s not recognized and it’s not rewarded and they lose opportunities for advancement because nobody ever sees the great stuff that they’re doing. 

JU: How did this year’s daylight saving’s celebration go, was there a moment that stuck out as unique to this year?

MC: We went to 125 different hospitals and nursing homes and provided our night shift nurse kits to almost 3,000 nurses throughout the state, from one end of Indiana to the other. It’s really nice because we label those kits, “Do not open until 2 am,” so the day shift people don’t open them. 

Every night nurse has the experience coming to work and the day shift has had some kind of celebration or cookies or whatever and what’s left for night shift is the empty box and the mess to clean up. It’s never shared with them. So, we make this specifically for night shift people and only night shift people. 

JU: What do you think it does for a nurse to feel recognized and celebrated in the way that Night Shift Nurse offers?

MC: It is everything. You know, I was just at a leadership seminar and one of the things in not only healthcare but every other business is this: people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. And that’s true. I’ve had jobs where it was just the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I knew my manager had my back and supported me and so I stayed because I loved working for somebody like that. And I have that now as well, even though I’m not working in a hospital. 

Recognition is so important to everyone and particularly to the nurses who give so much of themselves, not only physically but emotionally and intellectually on a daily or nightly basis. Just to be recognized is super important. 

JU: What are the perks of working the night shift?

MC: A lot of nurses do it because it works best for their families; they have a spouse who works during the day so that way there’s somebody always home with the kids. There is substantial research - and this is the area of my Master’s and Doctoral studies - there is a genetic component. I’m sure you know people who are night owls by nature. I’m one of those people. I have two kids who are up and rolling at 5:30 in the morning and that’s when they do their best work. 

So, there are people who just prefer the night environment, that’s their comfort zone and that’s when they operate well and they like it and they’re good with it. And then there are day people who are happy with that, too. There’s just a different vibe. You really get a sense of teamwork when you work nights because you have fewer resources and you have to have each other’s back. The universal truth is: all the cool kids work nights! 

JU: Is there actually a gene that makes you a “night person” or “morning person?”

MC: So, since they finished the human genome project, they identified a gene they call the “clock gene.” And there is a physical difference in the clock gene between people like you and me and people like my daughter, who’s up and cheery at 5:30 in the morning. There’s an actual genetic component to that. 

JU: If someone transitioning to the night shift from the day came to ask you for advice, what would you tell them?

MC: First of all, how do they fall on that scale? Are they a morning person or are they a night person? If you take a person who is a morning person and try to plug them into a night shift, they’re going to be miserable. I think that’s really an important piece but I’d also say look at how it works for your family and your life in general. 

If you’re a person whose kids are into sports or whatever and you need your evenings free then maybe a day job is what you need. It’s really very individual and I think too few people really think about it before they make the decision on a job. I would pass up a job that wasn’t right for me even if the money was right and everything. You really have to think about what your life outside of work is like, as well. 

JU: WGU Indiana offers five night shift nurses five $2,000 scholarships to help them go back to school. While this isn’t a fortune, what do you think the scholarship means to nurses who earn and receive it?

MC: It is a fortune when you consider that our tuition is only $3,200 a term. It’s pretty much a fortune! It’s paying almost 20% of their degree program, so that’s a pretty substantial discount. We hope that money helps people finish their degrees!

JU: How is Indiana’s healthcare system different from others in the country, perhaps in terms of night shift work?

MC: Not very different. Patients are patients and they require care 24-hours a day. So, when I go around to conferences and talk about my research and this sort of thing, people from all over the country gives me the same stories or indicate to me that the data I’m sharing with them is true too for their organizations as well. So, the night shift doesn’t really vary around the country.

JU: Nursing involves such compassion, patience, and intellect. Is there a common thread you’ve seen in the nurses you work with - a common inspiration - to them becoming nurses? 

MC: I think everybody has different reasons. When I went into nursing, a lot of people talked about, “Oh, it’s my calling.” And every time there’s an economic downturn, we see people who have lost their jobs in other industries come into nursing because it’s a stable job and it pays well and it is helpful to other people and they don’t really express that “calling” idea. So, I don’t think you have to have a calling to be a good nurse but I think you’re happier as a nurse if you do feel that calling vibe. 

Everybody goes into nursing for different reasons, sometimes it’s an experience they have as a patient or as a family member as a patient. And some people are really drawn to the intellectual rigor of it. It’s a demanding career. It’s a career that’s admired and respected. So, there are a lot of factors that go into it. 

JU: Do you have a favorite story or memorable event that happened to you while working a night shift?

MC: . Oh my! Probably I do! We played - oh, I won’t get into the tricks we play on people sometimes at night. I think the most interesting to me is when I had a gentleman years ago - he was an elderly guy and he was in his final days. I love baseball and one night we were - I was in his room doing something and he was watching a baseball game and we fell into this discussion about baseball. And he started telling me this story about when he was in the Navy before the Second World War. 

They were filming the Gary Cooper movie about Lou Gehrig, Pride of the Yankees. He was selected to be an extra in that movie; he was a right-handed picture. His image is in on a very famous movie poster from that movie. He’s the right-handed pitcher on the mound and Gary Cooper is the batter in the batter’s box. 

If I worked day shift, I probably wouldn’t have had time for that conversation because it just rambled on and on and on. But that’s probably one of my favorite experiences I’ve ever had with a patient, just connecting on that mutual love of baseball and hearing his stories from 70 years ago. It was just really cool.

JU: It makes me wonder if people are more open to reflection or telling those kinds of stories at night because it’s darker and the end of the day.

MC: Yeah and I think there is less hustle and bustle going on, too. So, there’s a lot less interruption and there’s more time for that kind of one-on-one interaction.

JU: How do you hope to grow the Night Shift Nurse Campaign in future years?

MC: It grows every year. It takes on a life of its own. I’d like to see it spread, not just be a WGU thing but I’d like to see the recognition spread all over the country. For healthcare organizations to recognize and reward those people who work nights, too. Not just nurses, but first responders, the guys from AAA who bring you gas at 3am when you run out. Out all those people are out there doing it and a little bit of recognition for the disruption that working nights causes in their lives. 

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