UConn Health After Dark

On a typical night, more than 200 UConn Health employees report to work third shift

Aleks Bieniek environmental portrait

Aleks Bieniek is an overnight pharmacist at UConn Health. "Just because patients are asleep that doesn't mean there's nothing to do," she says. "I always try to think of ways to better optimize a process or make things easier for the next shift." (Photo by Tychell Perry)

There’s a bond that is formed with third shift that is unmatched, and I appreciate all of my night shift coworkers so much. — Kelly DeJoseph

At 10 o’clock on a typical night at UConn Health, a large majority of the workforce has been home for hours.

That’s when pharmacist Aleks Bieniek is just getting started.

“I walk into the central pharmacy a little before 10 p.m. and greet my coworkers with a loud and obnoxious ‘good morning!’ — Well, it’s morning for me, at least,” Bieniek says.

Aleks Bieniek scanning medication
UConn Health pharmacist Aleks Bieniek works four overnights in a typical week. “I feel like working the third shift has helped me be more decisive and independent in my decision making,” she says. (Photo by Tychell Perry)

Four nights a week, she takes the handoff from the evening staff, and she and pharmacy technician Tychell Perry get to work to ensure the providers will have what they need through the night and the following morning for their patients on the John Dempsey Hospital floors.

“I love being able to help other overnight staff when they call the pharmacy,” Bieniek says. “In the short time I have been an overnight pharmacist, I feel like I learn something new every night, and with each night I continue to gain a little bit more confidence and experience.”

Bieniek’s pharmacy experience at UConn Health goes back to 2019, when she started the first of two student internships, first with UConn Health Pharmacy Services Inc., then in the hospital. She also did a student rotation with UConn Health’s pharmacy, then came back as a pharmacy resident. As the residency was ending, the overnight pharmacy position opened.

“I knew that overnights would be a little difficult to get used to, but in the end I was going to continue to pursue my No. 1 goal in life, which is to never stop learning and growing,” she says.

On a typical overnight, UConn Health has more than employees working, mostly onsite, some remote.

While Bieniek is relatively new to working third shift, it’s all Dr. Genevieve O’Connell knows. She’s been working nights in the emergency department for the last 23 years, and the 16 years before that in the Waterbury Hospital ED.

She started with overnights because the hours were favorable to her family schedule.

“I have never worked first shift, so I do not know what that is like,” O’Connell says. “However, there’s a real camaraderie among night-shift workers. Without a team approach, we would never be able to do the work that we do. That includes housekeeping, unit clerks, as well as nurses, medical assistants, and physician assistants.”

Michael Henderson holding a certificate of recognition
Michael Henderson works overnights as a telecommunications operator at UConn Health. “I like the autonomy and responsibility that comes with working third shift,” he says. “Most of the time there are less calls on third shift, but the calls that do come in tend to be more urgent. This helps me to feel like I am really doing my small part to help people in my capacity as an operator.” (Photo provided by Michael Henderson)

Down the hill in the Administrative Services Building, telecommunications operator Michael Henderson is another third-shift veteran, going back to 2001.

“I might get one call asking about the time of an upcoming appointment,” Henderson says. “The very next call I get may be from a hospital floor initiating an emergency procedure because a patient is in critical condition. It is a fulfilling role that allows me to utilize and develop many different skills at once. I leave each morning feeling good about what I do because I am able to help both hospital staff and patients in a variety of ways every night.”

He says it’s surprising how many people are up and functioning at all hours, and how many calls he gets that are routine rather than emergency.

The same building is home to the Connecticut Poison Control Center. Margot Reyes is one of the poison specialists who answer the 24/7 hotline, which she’s been doing since 2018.

“I will take calls at night mainly from the hospitals across the state, also home calls, children getting into medications, household cleaning supplies, snake bites, spider bites,” Reyes says. “Night shift works as a team, there is no other way. Even with staff at other hospitals, you create this close network, and we help each other, just like family.”

Reyes started working at UConn Health in 1995 as a certified nursing assistant, went on to get her nursing degree, and worked as a staff nurse in the orthopedic/floor then the intensive care unit. She joined the poison control center in 2018. Her time on overnights goes back more than two decades.

Kelly DeJoseph in a hospital medication room
Kelly DeJoseph is an overnight assistant nurse manager in the UConn John Dempsey Hospital Intensive Care Unit. “I enjoy helping and educating my colleagues and also being an ICU nurse, so my job provides the ability for me to do both, which I love,” she says.
(Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health photo)

Kelly DeJoseph, an assistant nurse manager in the ICU for the last three years, also sees a camaraderie among overnight staff.

“There’s a bond that is formed with third shift that is unmatched, and I appreciate all of my night shift coworkers so much,” DeJoseph says. “Night shift nurses work so hard to care for their patients and are incredibly resourceful because many of the specialty groups that are present on days are not always there at night.”

DeJoseph has spent most of her 16-year nursing career on third shift. She joined UConn Health six years ago floating between critical care units.

“Not all patients sleep at night,” DeJoseph says. “There is still so much to be done at night and so much can happen, especially in the ICU. People also may be surprised to learn that staying awake isn’t as hard as they think as long as you keep busy.”

Daniel Lambert started working overnights when he joined UConn Health as a transport aide nearly three years ago.

Daniel Lambert pushing an empty wheelchair
Daniel Lambert is an overnight transport aide at UConn’s John Dempsey Hospital. “Some days and nights are harder to catch up on a sleep routine,” he says. “You have to keep working at it.” (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Photo)

“It’s hard,” he says. “You have to understand when you’re busy you are constantly on the go without taking time for a break until you can get caught up. Some nights it seems like it’s never going to slow down enough for time to grab something to eat and get off your feet for 15 minutes.”

He says he is grateful for his supportive colleagues.

“The nurses, aides, and techs are truly my coworkers who help me get through every challenging night,” Lambert says. “I am so grateful for them. I couldn’t do it without them.”

Christopher Brijmohan has been with UConn Health for two years, as an office assistant in the central monitoring unit and now the float pool.

“I check the census on the units that I’m covering, and from there I round the floors to make sure charts and paperwork from my shift are completed, while also covering breaks for the office assistants in central monitoring, the ED, and ICU,” Brijmohan says. “And if I can, I usually help by grabbing supplies for staff members.”

He works 90%, and prefers to work all nine of his days consecutively so to make his sleeping patterns more consistent and switch to sleeping at night on his off days.

“The pro to night shift is the environment feels less chaotic,” Brijmohan says. “The con to night shift is the lack of resources and how to access them in case of emergency.”

Heidi Pokorny in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine breaks it down further.

“The pros are flexibility with schedule — you can decide when to sleep and what part of the day to be awake during, less people at night, better for introverts, and the pay differential,” she says. “The cons are, sleeping during the day does not always provide the same rest as sleeping at night, you can get busy during the night and there’s less staff to help and nobody to forward questions to, and sometimes it’s rough on physical and mental health, and it can affect hormones.”

Pokorny is a medical technologist in the core lab. She’s worked all shifts since joining UConn Health in 2021, but primarily has been working 11 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. for most of the last year.

“Even though I like working nights, our bodies know we are awake all night long,” says DeJoseph, who works three 12-hour shifts in a typical week. “Despite sleeping during the day I am much more tired after I work nights. It does affect your circadian rhythm.”

Margot Reyes on a phone call
Margot Reyes is a certified poison specialist in the Connecticut Poison Control Center at UConn Health. “I have always worked night shift, to me it is a shift that allows me to have a balance with my family and work,” she says. (Photo by David Sandoval)

Reyes, who works 10-hour shifts, sometimes sleeps in shifts too.

“I can sleep a few hours in the morning, get up and do things, and then sleep a couple hours before work,” she says.

On work days, Henderson’s routine is to get chores and errands done in the morning, sleep from about noon to 5 p.m., have dinner with his wife, then take a short nap before getting ready to go to work.

“This is the only third-shift position I have ever worked and I love it,” he says. “I am naturally more alert at night so these hours are ideal for me. I would not know how to function waking up at 6 a.m. like many people do.”

Bieniek is only a few months in to working overnights, and she’s still figuring it out.

“I still see my friends and family during weekends and days that I have off, thankfully,” she says. “So far I haven’t had too many issues with switching back and forth. As long as I’m able to squeeze in a quick nap, I don’t feel too tired during my shifts.”