Research into the quality of life of nurses working at night has received scant attention to date. Apart from studies relating to changes in circadian rhythms of night nurses, very few other aspects of the complex adaptive process have been given serious consideration. Yet, knowledge of that adaptive process is a prerequisite for the selection of staff, and for the design of an appropriate educational programme and staff development strategy. This study looks first at methods of describing the quality of life in general, in order to aim at criteria for evaluation which do not impose the conventional position that day work is proper work. In the light of these criteria, preconceptions and limitations which surround shift work in general are identified and discussed. Night nurses as a group are then subjected to a more intensive examination, including a theoretical review; a survey of a population of one-hundred and sixty-one night nurses and selected interviews; and an account of a pilot study of a potential curriculum. Results of the survey indicate that nurses who show a preference for night work and who self-select these hours on a permanent basis are more likely to derive challenge from and express greater satisfaction with their work, than those on alternative day and night shifts. Further, there is a stable population of workers who choose night work above all other options as a source of personal satisfaction, freedom and challenge. In the light of these findings, recommendations are made as to the selection, education and development of hospital night staff.
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