How to Survive a Nursing Shift


Published: 07 April 2015

Survival. Some shifts it’s all you can think about. Just get through until the next shift comes in, you may think. We’ve all been there, the daily emotions of nursing are vast, however you should be able to rely on your kit to help get you through your nursing shift. When you have all the tools you need at hand, it makes it far easier to get through your 8 or 12 hours. Some of the items may be no-brainers, but others you might not have thought about. Carrying these items in your scrub pockets means that you can react to a situation at a moment’s notice, saving you crucial time and energy.


Your notes are your brains.

Your nursing notes are your brains.

You may call them your report sheet, your security blanket, or your brains. These are the sheets that you make up for each patient, write out the pertinent information on, and generally use to keep track of who is who on your rounds. Nurses can’t live without their brains. In an emergency for example, when you urgently need to know the patient’s daily potassium level, you turn to your brains to find out the number. When you take report or assess a patient the brains are duly marked to keep you organised and on schedule. Most nurses carry a notebook with them at all times. This is something that’s certainly worth including in your survival kit.

Alcohol Swabs

You never know when you’re going to need an alcohol swab, so it pays to have a handful of them in your pocket. From cleaning an injection site to sterilising the end of an IV port, these small, powerful packets can come in handy at the oddest times. Most nurses can’t go a whole shift without using an alcohol swab, and nor should they. These swabs help to clean bugs off invasive equipment and are vital in infection control. You’re going to need them, so stock up your pockets so you aren’t running to the nurses’ station every five minutes.


Technically, you should wear gloves whenever you come in contact with a patient’s bodily fluids. Since you never know when you will encounter these fluids, gloves need to be on hand quickly. Many facilities have boxes of gloves hanging from the walls at various intervals, but sometimes even these are too far away. If you have a situation where you are in danger of infection, you need to have the gloves in your pockets for easy access. You don’t need to carry a ton of them, but one or two pairs should get you through emergencies when you can’t make it to a glove box.

Bandage Scissors

Not enough nurses carry scissors. There is always that one nurse on the floor who does, and everyone runs to them when they need to cut something. You should be that nurse. Scissors come in handy in so many situations, not just removing bandages. You can help your patient remove their ID band when they are ready to go home, use it to cut strips of paper tape, or carefully change the dressing on an IV. In short, you need scissors to survive a nursing shift because you never know when you’re going to need them. Of course, you should thoroughly disinfect them between patient usages, and carry them in your pocket (capped of course) along with the rest of your gear. Also, be careful who you lend them to, and make sure you get them back. Scissors are easily lost on a nursing unit.

Pill Splitter

A pill splitter.

Be sure to clean the pill splitter using an alcohol swab.

Like scissors, you don’t realise you need a pill splitter until you don’t have one. Many medications are cut in half to reach their required administration dosage, and not all of them are scored for breakage. In fact, some scored pills don’t break easily either. If you have a pill splitter in your pocket, though, it is no trouble to split any medications that come up on your medication chart. Of course, you also need to disinfect this tool between usages as the powder from the split pill can remain behind. If you are the one on your floor with the pill splitter, keep an eye on it. They are also easy to lose.

Hand Sanitiser

Finally, you can’t get through a shift without using a hand sanitiser. Fortunately, most facilities now have these hanging on the walls outside patient’s rooms, making it extremely easy to use them. If your hands are soiled you should of course wash them, but if you are on your rounds then the sanitiser is just as good. This can save you time in washing your hands, and the chemical has been found to be just as effective as washing. Be sure to use the right amount of pumps you need and to rub your hands for the required time. In this way, you can be sure to protect your patients from cross contaminating between them.

SEE ALSO Integrating Cognitive Challenges into Your Practice

What’s in your nursing survival kit?