Working the Holiday Shift

Working the Holiday Shift

Thanksgiving is this week, that annual celebration of food, family, festivity, and football. Those who work in corporate jobs or banking are pretty much guaranteed the day off to eat turkey and kick off the holiday season. In fact, a 2013 survey by CareerBuilder found that only 14 percent of American workers had to work on Thanksgiving that year. But as you know, nurses often have to work on Thanksgiving and other holidays—particularly those who work in a 24-hour facility like a hospital or long term care facility.

As much as you may dislike being away from your home and family on Thanksgiving, your patients need you. They are also likely to feel they are missing out on family time or a special meal. And on top of that, they may be scared, in pain, or very sick. They did not choose to become ill or be hospitalized over a holiday, whereas you probably went into nursing with the understanding you would not have every holiday off.

Healthcare facilities have different policies and strategies when it comes to scheduling. Some of them give preferential scheduling to nurses with seniority, while others treat all nurses the same. Many of them rotate holidays in some way—so if you work Thanksgiving this year, you can expect to be off for Christmas (or for Thanksgiving next year). Yet others do not rotate, so if your regular day to work coincides with a holiday, you are simply expected to work. Most facilities operate in a culturally-sensitive manner, making case-by-case arrangements for nurses who observe non-Christian holidays. It’s not unusual for facilities to allow employees to trade shifts and days off as well.

Early-career nurses or those working in a critical care facility for the first time may find it particularly hard to adjust to working on a major family holiday. Here are some strategies that may help:

  • Gain your family’s buy-in and understanding that this your reality and your patients need you. Explain your employer’s policies about rotating holidays, if that’s the case, so they can look forward to spending the next big holiday with you at home.
  • Plan to do something festive or family-centered on the holiday before or after your shift. Delegate the cooking or planning to another family member (or do some cooking in advance, on a regular day off.)
  • Find out the holiday schedule well in advance, so you have plenty of time to plan—or even make adjustments, like trading shifts with a colleague.
  • Focus on the benefits of working on a holiday. This may be extra pay, an easier commute, the next holiday off, or a special meal that your employer provides.
  • Enjoy the slower pace that often occurs during a holiday shift. You may find that since the day is less hectic, you have some time to extend some extra kindness to your patients. After all, isn’t this why you became a nurse?

Happy Thanksgiving from American Sentinel University!

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