This paper aims at identifying variables associated with inadequate work ability among nursing personnel at a public hospital, considering factors related to socio-demographic, lifestyles, working conditions, and health outcomes. A cross-sectional study was conducted in a university hospital in São Paulo, Brazil, as part of a larger research study on tolerance to 12 h night work. Nursing staff included registered nurses, nurse technicians, and nurse aides; in total, there were 996 healthcare workers (878 female; 118 male) at the time of the study. Some 696 workers (69.9%) of the population agreed to participate. Data collection (October 2004-July 2005) was based on a comprehensive questionnaire about living and working conditions (including incivility at work, work demands, work control, and support), mental and physical health symptoms (fatigue and sleep problems), and work ability. This report presents analyses of the adapted Brazilian version of the Work Ability Index (WAI) and associated variables. The study population worked one of the following shift schedules at this hospital: 12 h nights followed by 36 h off or 9 h or 6 h day (morning or afternoon) shifts. The mean age of the respondents was 34.9 (S.D.+/-10.4) years of age; 31.5% of the participants held two jobs. Statistical analyses using a hierarchical multiple logistic regression model were performed to evaluate the factors associated with inadequate (moderate and low scores) of the WAI. The significantly associated factors were socio-demographic (income responsibility, sole breadwinner, raising kids, age group), working conditions (thermal discomfort, organization of the workplace, and verbal abuse), and health outcomes (high body mass index, obesity, sleep problems, and fatigue). In spite of limitations of the study design, results indicate that the nursing profession is associated with stressful working conditions, contributing to inadequate WAI. This is in addition to bad living conditions and precarious work. Intervention measures, either at the workplace or at individual levels, are necessary to prevent a decrease in work ability, even in this quite young working population.