I was explaining my shift to one of the new attendings the other day. I work 11:30 AM to midnight. When I get on, I take other nurses' areas so they can go eat lunch. Then I go eat my lunch. Then I come back, and either give other nurses their 30-minute afternoon breaks, or I take an area from a nurse who is scheduled to leave at 4 pm. We've been very short-staffed lately, so often I'm in charge, doing ambulance triage, and, occasionally, manning the trauma room. Sometimes we have to close an area until 4 pm, because I can't staff it until I've given people their breaks. This attending said, "They should just open the area, and the nurses should go without their breaks. Us attendings don't get breaks when it's busy like this."
Them's fightin' words.
Nurses need breaks. Our attendings sit at a desk all shift long, occasionally getting up to see a patient (depending on what their shift is that day, teaching or nonteaching). Nurses are at the bedside. We clean butts, we move 300-pound patients with little or no help, we run around giving meds and assessing and even getting pillows and blankets in our CITY BLOCK LONG ED. We assist docs with procedures. We're the first line of defense when a patient's angry relative wants to know why they're waiting so long for care. Yes, sometimes patients and their relatives will ask at the doctors' desk when they're going to be seen--but that's a FRACTION of the complaints nurses field. A doc sees a patient for ten minutes and then writes orders that will take the nurse hours to complete: blood draws, blood cultures, IV access, Foley catheters, multiple meds, tests, monitors...and on a busy day when we're understaffed multiply that by EIGHT TO TWELVE patients. In addition to this, you need to factor in the admitted patients who need care: the doc's job is over with them, but they're still my responsibility to care for until they get upstairs, and I have to look them over and document and PHOTOGRAPH every dimple and freckle they might have, because god forbid it's a decubitus ulcer. They get to go pee once in a while. We don't. They get to eat and drink at their desk. We don't. They get to sit. We don't.
That's why we get breaks.