When we entered the nursing profession many, if not most, of us didn't think of the need to work holidays or having to carefully plan when to celebrate significant events and celebrations around work schedules. It is not easy working holidays, but it is also not easy being a patient during special times of the year. With forethought and planning holidays can take on added meaning for staff, patients and patients' families. Let's look at some ways to make working holidays a bit easier and more fun for nurses and for those we care for.
Every facility has their own way of seeking requests for days off, rotating who works on which holidays and if vacations are granted during certain times of the year. Learn your facility's system and work within it.
For the "major" holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve/Day most facilities ask staff to indicate which days they prefer to be off and which days they would rather work. For other holidays such as Passover, Easter, 4th of July and personal celebrations it often comes down to who asks first.
So, how can we combine our need and desire to be with our families with our professional obligation to care for those in need?
Here are some suggestions:
* Talk to your co-workers well before a holiday and see if a compromise can be worked out. One thing I would do is offer to work New Year's Eve and New Year's Day for a single friend who would work for me Christmas Eve and Christmas.
* Talk to your supervisor and offer alternatives. One suggestion which is important to night shift workers is to include the day prior to the holiday to be requested off.
* Be flexible. Who says you have to have the traditional celebration on a set day? Look at moving the big celebration to another day. I would often work the night before and the night of Thanksgiving and my family would have the traditional feast on Saturday or Sunday.
* Know your priorities. What holiday has the most meaning to you? Express this to co-workers and your manager.
* Plan a celebration at work with your co-workers. Having a potluck on the holidays is a wonderful way to share special memories with those you work with.
But what about patients?
Many facilities offer special meals, special place mats and even decorations appropriate for the holiday. But it is small gestures from the nursing staff which can make the biggest difference. Some examples of "little things" the nursing staff can do to brighten the day for patients and their families can include:
* For Easter fill plastic eggs with appropriate candies, small toys, or perhaps inspirational messages and give each patient and family member a special egg.
* At Passover find small dreidels and give to those of the Jewish faith.
* Get holiday themed scrub tops (as allowed by your facility's dress code). If special tops are not allowed, how about bunny ears, reindeer antlers and heart headbands?
* Decorate the nursing station. Due to fire codes and facility policies make sure to clear this with your manager.
* For a patient's birthday contact the dietary department and request a small birthday cake (in accordance with dietary orders), or bring in party hats for the patient and family to wear. Bring staff and visitors to the patient's door and sing Happy Birthday (remember that those of who are Jehovah's Witness do not celebrate birthdays and holidays).
* For celebrations you are not familiar with such as Ramadan for those of the Islamic faith, Kwanzaa for African-Americans or Taoist observance of the Winter Solstice, be sure to discuss with the patient and family member ways staff can help the patient observe, honor and celebrate.
* Have a smile on your face as you care for your patients. A smile will brighten the day for your patient and for you.
* Be creative. Making the holidays and personal celebrations fun at work and at home takes determination and creativity. Money isn't important in making memories, creativity is!
* Don't forget the camera!
Sharing special times with those you work with is just as important as the times we spend with family. With a little creativity and effort, the holidays can be made even more special as we share the joy.