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Cope with Working the Holidays in Healthcare

Cope with Working the Holidays in Healthcare

Are you a healthcare professional who's feeling anything but merry about working yet another holiday shift? Healthcare veterans offer tips on how to banish your inner grinch and make the most of another holiday on the job.

Plan Ahead

Healthcare professionals say one of the worst aspects of working a holiday is missing family events. Diane Speranza, RN, a certified emergency nurse at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital in Tarpon Springs, Florida, plans holiday gatherings several months in advance with extended family members, many of whom also work in healthcare or in law enforcement and have similar scheduling challenges. "We very rarely celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day," she says. "A holiday is whenever a family can be together."

Invite Loved Ones to Work

Some healthcare employers allow their employees to invite guests for short visits during holiday shifts. "The best years have been when it's slow enough to actually have families come in," says Connie Meyer, a paramedic captain for Johnson County Med-Act in Olathe, Kansas.

Meyer, who always works 24-hour shifts with the same crew, finds ways to make the best of holiday shifts that are too busy for visitors. "At work, it's just a different family we're spending our time with," she says.

Brace Yourself for the Emotional Toll

Caring for lonely, sick patients on holidays can be especially wrenching, Meyer says. Responding to a cardiac arrest during a family dinner, for example, is particularly tough. "On a holiday, you have to be flexible and expect that extra emotion to come into your calls," she says.

In the ER on holidays, Speranza prefers a steady stream of patients to a trickle -- but dreads severe trauma cases. "If it's slow in the ER, time drags, and you start thinking about being there and working on the holiday," she says. "If you're kept busy, the next thing you know, the day is over."

Empathize with Your Patients

Year-round, Speranza gives her youngest patients little presents to make their ER experience easier. During the holiday season, she wraps them to look like holiday gifts. Even if you don't make similar holiday-related gestures, you should at least hide your grouchiness from patients, Speranza advises. "If you're going to be down and grumpy and have a bad attitude, that will affect your patient care and the attitude of the patient as well," she says. "Think of it as, ‘these people don't want to be here either.'"

Enjoy the Perks, or Create Your Own

Some healthcare employers pay employees who work holidays time and a half, double time or even triple time. Hospitals also may provide free meals on Thanksgiving or Christmas. In some cases, hospital administrators may roll up their sleeves and serve holiday meals to their hardworking staffs.

If your workplace doesn't offer such perks, you can still make the day festive. Pharmacist Ron Barnes, MS, RPh, F-ASHP, and his colleagues at Saint Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta bring in homemade dishes to share for holiday dinners. They also hold a Christmas gift exchange.

Find a Way to Worship

For Barnes, one of the difficulties of working on holidays is missing religious ceremonies that can't be replicated before or after the holiday itself. Healthcare workers facing similar dilemmas may want to visit their hospital's chapel or pastoral staff. "The pastoral department here makes us feel very welcome and adds to the joy of the holiday for those of us who have to work," he says.

Accept Holidays as Part of the Schedule

For many healthcare professionals, working a holiday one year means they get the next year off. Barnes, however, will work on Christmas for the next six years straight. Working a schedule of seven nights on and seven nights off means he hasn't had to work on Christmas for the past seven years, but this streak is now over.

Barnes has come to terms with the upcoming string of holidays in the hospital, because seven-on/seven-off is such a great overall schedule. "For me, it's just part of the schedule, and I don't have a problem with it at all," he says.

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