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How to survive your first weekend shift

One of the most difficult challenges you will face as a trainee doctor is your first weekend shift. This guide will show you what you can expect to encounter during your first weekend shift, and what you can do to prepare.

Doing anything for the first time can be a daunting experience, especially in hospital, where the decisions that you make impact on patient care. One of the most difficult challenges you will face as a trainee doctor is your first weekend shift.

Before your shift

First and foremost, make sure that you have a good night’s rest before your weekend shift, so that you have plenty of energy. Have a checklist of things to take with you, including:

  • at least two black pens
  • a stethoscope
  • a small notepad for taking notes and writing lists.

At the hospital

When you arrive at the hospital, the first thing you will do is attend a handover session with the night team, who will pass on the information that you will need to continue caring for patients. Ensure that you have a notepad to write down any important points that the night team raise. If you are uncertain about what is said, don’t be afraid to clarify it with them. The night team are there to help you understand what to look out for, but it is your responsibility to understand what they have said.

Make sure that you introduce yourself to the night team and get the bleep number for your medical registrar and the medical specialty registrar (StR). These contacts will be your lifeline when you are in trouble.

Take notes

Write down any cases that you will have to hand over. It is much easier to keep track of your cases as you go along than it is to write them all up 10 minutes before handover. Keeping notes like this will make your life easier and ensure that you don’t forget anything important.

Problems on your shift

Every shift is different, and you can expect that during your first few weekend shifts you will encounter problems that you will be unsure how to handle. The following tips should help you to overcome most of the problems you are likely to face.

  • Before dealing with a problem, check whether there are relevant trust guideline policies on the trust/hospital intranet. These can offer you advice on a range of topics and can solve a lot of basic problems.
  • If you are uncertain about something on your shift, such as what test to order, your medical SHO should always be your first point of call. Get in touch with them if you cannot find the relevant advice on the intranet or if you want further clarification.
  • If you are unsure what dose to prescribe, instead of searching for a British national formulary (BNF), try using BNF online. If you are still unsure, contact the on-call pharmacist.
  • If you have difficulty with a procedure, such as inserting a cannula or taking blood, ask the nurses for support.
  • If you are asked to see a patient and you are unsure about their case even after reading their notes, you should ask the nurses. The nurses are around the same patients all the time, and can be a valuable source of information. If you are still stuck, ring a senior doctor for advice.

Remember that you are human

On a long shift, you can often forget about yourself and how tired you are. Make sure that you have a break to recharge. Breaks are also a fantastic way to get to know the rest of the team. Arrange to take your break with someone else, to take your mind off the hospital, and remember: a fed doctor is a happy doctor.


At the end of a busy shift, you will always feel that you have not completed everything, but it’s important to go home and relax. Try to have a good night off; for example, meet up with friends and recharge your batteries.


Dr Tasia Aghadiuno