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5 Ways to Survive Veterinary Overnight Shifts

Anna Kovacs, RVT Jun 6, 2018 11:00:00 AM Veterinary, Vet Tech
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The reactions I commonly experienced when I told someone that I worked veterinary overnight shifts ranged from horror to pity.  Most people can't fathom sleeping during the day, and being awake at night. The thing is, the saying that you really don't know what it's like until you experience it, rings very true in this case.

Here are some of the top ways that I was able to stay sane, focused, and make it to sunrise! 

#1: Follow expert advice... well, kind of.


There is a lot of really good advice out there about the importance of drinking enough water, and eating real food during your overnights. While I tried to do my best, ultimately I settled on a combination of good food, and junk to make it through the night.

The night would start off with a salad, or a neatly packed container of home made leftovers. Water with lemon slices, or some floating frozen fruit for flavour. We all know that most overnights end with several caffeinated beverages and chips, or a midnight order of Chinese food.

Don't be too hard on yourself. Do your best to have a mixture that keeps you somewhere in between falling asleep and bouncing off the walls.

#2: Create your ideal sleep schedule

sleeping kitten

I'm lucky enough to be a napper. And when I say napper, I mean I can close my eyes and be asleep in seconds whenever, and wherever I am. If napping doesn't come easy to you, don't fret. Even with my amazing napping abilities, I still had to create a schedule for myself to prepare for my overnights.

Try out a few scenarios and see what works best for you. Some people like to stay up really late the night before the overnight, and sleep most of the day, while others prefer to have a normal sleep the day before and nap before their shift.

My advice here is to figure out what works for you, and make sure you allow enough time for yourself to rest properly. 13 hour shifts on limited sleep are not fun, trust me. 

#3: Embrace your inner Vampire

You don't really appreciate the "culture" of being on overnights until you are on them. You suddenly realize it's like a secret society that comes with some amazing benefits that you've never experienced before. For example, you are suddenly available for an 11 am doctor's appointment, or better yet, that 1 pm pedicure! Grocery shopping is never the same either. Other than doding your fellow daytime grocery shopping seniors, you can now get your food list in your cart in 1/2 the time! 

#4: Take a minute to hug something fuzzy

Anna Kovacs

Overnights are tough, and when you throw Vet Medicine into the mix, you can easily have an overly emotional never-ending shift. Sometimes you just need to take a minute, and go hug something fuzzy. Whether it's the stinky Golden with HGE that loves everyone, or the renal kitty on IV that's pretty unhappy to be there, everyone benefits from a little cuddle time. 

At my clinic we were fortunate enough to bring our dogs to work. There were many moments when it was so good to grab Bianca and take her for a pee and get out of the building for a few minutes.

Take advantage of the therapy from the critters in clinic, whether they are your own or patients that miss their families.

#5: Soak up that coworker support

I can honestly say that I could not have made it through my overnight career without my amazing team. Whether it's one or two people that you click with, or if you are lucky like me and have your core team be amazing, savour it. Be thankful for it, and use it to your advantage.

A lot can happen during 13 hours. My team made an effort to be supportive, and cheer each other on. We looked forward to ordering food, sharing cute videos, and quoting endless Jimmy Fallon skits to make it through till daylight. Hold onto, and maintain your relationships with those on your team that lift you up!

Also check out Why We Love Vets and Why We Love Techs.

After being a 'general practice' tech for 14 years, working in an overnight facility was quite a change.  Some aspects of it I was hesitant about, but I found it to be a very worthwhile and enjoyable experince. It's a huge cultural shift to go from a M-F 9-5 job, but as a result of a few tweaks in my routine, my 4 years of overnights were one of my favourite so far.

What are your tips on getting through overnights? Do you have any funny stories?


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