Your first year working as a nurse is challenging, and your first holiday season is even more so. Oftentimes, the last thing you want to do is put on your scrubs and drive into work while your friends and family are celebrating without you. Unfortunately, every nurse has to work some holidays—it’s just part of the job. Here are eight tips to help you cope successfully with your first holiday season as a nurse.
Get ready to work at least some holidays.
Different facilities run their schedules differently, but one thing is for sure: You’re going to have to work at least some holidays throughout the year. At some hospitals, if you normally work that day of the week, then you work the holiday–period (unless you find someone gracious enough to swap shifts with you, of course). Other facilities pair holidays together—Thanksgiving with July 4, Memorial Day with Christmas, etc.—and you work one day and get the other off, alternating year over year. However, almost no nurse gets all the holidays off each year, so mentally prepare yourself to work on at least some of these days.
If you want to make swaps, do them in advance.
No one likes that coworker who tries to swap a holiday shift only days in advance, so don’t be that person! If you really want a particular holiday off, look into your facility’s shift-swapping protocol and reach out to your coworkers well in advance. It’s a big ask to request that someone else works on a holiday, so you might have to be willing to work a different special day. For example, you take their Thanksgiving shift while they pick up your Christmas one. And of course, it never hurts to sweeten the deal with some Christmas cookies while you’re at it.
Plan your schedule wisely.
Some nurses figure that if they have to work on a holiday, they might as well do three 12-hour shifts back-to-back and get their week over with. While this may sound tempting, be honest with yourself if this is something you can and want to do. Nursing is a tough profession emotionally and physically, and it can be even more so over the holidays–especially if you’re away from your family. If working three consecutive twelves is going to compromise your nursing work, or simply make you exhausted and sad, try to leave yourself some downtime in between shifts so you can spend time with friends and family. Take care of yourself, even if you can’t celebrate the day of the holiday.
Know how to get in touch with senior leadership.
Senior leaders often take or get off the holidays, so they won’t always be around to assist you in case of an emergency. Ask your supervisor what the protocol is for contacting out-of-office leadership in case a situation does arise. Make sure you know who will be quickly accessible and keep their contact info in an easy-to-reach place, such as your nursing bag, at all times. Hopefully nothing will happen, but staff is often spread a bit thin over the holidays and you want to be prepared ahead of time.
Ask others for help and minimize your commitments.
If you already have a holiday routine, it can be difficult to make the adjustment during your first holiday season as a nurse, especially if you’re usually the one doing all the work: cooking the big festive meals, gift shopping on other people’s behalf, hosting the annual holiday party, etc. But trying to do all that during your first year as a nurse will only make you tired and prone to burnout. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family members for help or to back out of your usual activities. Be upfront about the demands of your nursing career, and give people plenty of heads up on what you can and can’t do. Of course, this isn’t to say you have to completely give up on everything. You can still make a side dish to bring to the party (for example), rather than hosting the entire thing.
Be prepared that your family might not understand.
Non-nurses don’t always understand the rigors of the work schedule, and this is especially true for those who work a regular 9-to-5 job and get holidays off. As soon as you know your holiday schedule (which should be pretty far in advance), communicate it to your family, explain why you won’t be able to join them the day of and offer to coordinate an alternative celebration either before or after the holiday itself. If they give you pushback, explain that everyone in your unit has to work some holidays each year without exception. More senior nurses will have gone through this routine many times, so don’t be afraid to turn to them for advice and encouragement on this matter.
Focus on the incentives.
Almost no one wants to work on a holiday, but the situation isn’t all negative. Many facilities provide overtime pay for working on a holiday, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they may offer other perks (such as a free meal in the cafeteria) as well. Put that extra money to good use by scheduling a fun activity after your holiday shift, such as a massage or art class, so you have something to look forward to and a way to reward yourself for all your hard work.
Don’t forget other people are missing the holidays, too.
Obviously, being away from friends and family during the holidays can be tough, but you’re not the only one. Up to a quarter of all Americans are required to work at least one winter holiday. Many other hospital staff, EMTs, firefighters, police officers, restaurant workers, and retail workers will put on their scrubs or uniforms and clock into work over the holidays. (And of course, your patients are missing the holidays as well and they’re sick and in the hospital on top of that.) If nothing else, remember that you’re not alone and that you’re helping other people—and possibly even saving lives—in the process.
Your first holiday season as a nurse may not be fun, but you can make it a lot less painful by preparing ahead of time. Follow these eight must-know tips to successfully weather the holidays as a working nurse for the first time.
While anyone who works long hours at a high-stress job is vulnerable to burnout, nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals are at an especially high risk of experiencing this phenomenon, which the Mayo Clinic defines as “a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”
After all, hospital employees often work 12-plus-hour shifts—and residents sometimes put in more than 28 hours straight. And in many cases, they’re treating patients who are in serious pain or whose well-being or lives are in grave jeopardy. Indeed, it’s no wonder that 70% of nurses are experiencing burnout in their current position, while more than half of physicians report at least one symptom of burnout. Even if they don’t experience complete burnout, many hospital employees experience negative emotions such as stress and anxiety on a regular basis, which can affect both their work and personal lives.
However, there are steps that medical professionals can take to reduce feelings of burnout, stress, and anxiety if they work in a high-stress hospital environment. Here are seven different ways facilities around the country are trying to help their employees de-stress, whether they’re on the job or off the clock.
1. Group Activities and Classes
Hospitals frequently host or subsidize group activities that encourage creativity, social time, and stress relief. Popular class ideas include dance, pottery, painting, knitting, and group journaling exercises. Other group activities focus more on fitness and nutrition, such as educational sessions on eating a healthy diet or coordinating group fitness classes like yoga or aerobics. While engaging in these activities on your own can reduce stress and give you a mental break from work, doing them with coworkers creates the additional physical and mental benefits of socialization.
2. Facility or Department Events
Many companies host employee appreciation events to celebrate their workers, and hospitals are no different. Department lunches, holiday parties, and award ceremonies give employees a chance to hang up their stethoscopes and socialize without the pressures of work. If their facilities don’t host such happenings regularly, hospital employees can still coordinate their own low-key events, such as cookouts, potlucks, and game nights. Even if it’s just a couple people getting together for a casual lunch, it’s still a good opportunity to de-stress with coworkers who understand the unique demands of the job.
3. Havens of Relaxation
More and more hospitals are going beyond your average break room to create calming havens for employees to relax in during breaks. Sometimes called “serenity rooms,” these areas incorporate soothing features such as dimmer lights, soft colors, comfortable chairs, relaxing music, pleasing artwork, and beverages or snacks. Such rooms give doctors and nurses a chance to take a break from patients and families to clear their minds and release some of the stress and anxiety they’ve internalized during their shift.
4. “All-Natural” Stress Relief
Hospitals and employees often turn to Mother Nature to help them de-stress while in the middle of a shift. Many of the “serenity rooms” mentioned above use indoor plants to create a welcoming space full of life or incorporate water features to provide pleasant, soothing background noise while employees relax. Other facilities have created small outdoor gardens where staff can step out and get away from the chaos of the hospital for a few minutes. And if the facility is lucky enough to be located near beautiful natural surroundings, whether that’s lush forests or towering mountains, some employees find that just looking out the window is enough to give them a quick mental break and remind them of a world beyond the hospital walls.
5. Massages, Meditation, and More
Many businesses have begun offering free or low-cost massages to employees to help them de-stress, and no one needs it more than hospital employees. Some hospitals offer massages regularly, on a weekly or monthly basis, and even just 15 minutes of massage can help employees relax and return to work refreshed without having to change out of their scrubs. Other hospitals teach classes on meditation, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques that doctors and nurses can draw from in a stressful moment when massages aren’t an option.
6. Expert Advice
Medical professionals may experience trauma while on the job, such as when a patient dies. Staff who work in certain departments, such as the emergency room or neonatal intensive care, are exposed to even more of these profoundly affecting incidents. Hospitals may call in chaplains to talk about the stress and provide emotional support to their employees, and some doctors and nurses also benefit from talking to peers who have experienced similar situations. In certain cases, some medical professionals find it very helpful to talk to a counselor, therapist, or psychologist about mental health issues directly resulting from work, such as PTSD among nurses.
7. Fewer Extended Shifts
Working extended shifts can negatively impact the well-being of doctors and nurses, in turn leading to more employee turnover—and less desirable patient care. For example, nursing shifts commonly last 12 hours and frequently go over that limit due to patient needs and staff fluctuations. Hospitals looking to reduce anxiety, stress, and employee turnover should work to create a culture where employees don’t feel pressured to stay for “voluntary” overtime or to pick up extra shifts. After all, when hospital shifts are shorter, the rates of burnout remain lower as well. Respecting days off and vacation time so medical professionals truly get a break are also critical for helping them rest up and come back to work refreshed.
There’s no denying that doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals experience high levels of anxiety, stress, and burnout, especially if they work in a hospital. Thankfully, facilities around the country are taking more steps every day to help promote the well-being of their employees. If you work at a hospital that hasn’t tried any of these stress-relief initiatives yet, see if you can start one or independently host an event for your coworkers.
Are you thinking about going to nursing school and already have a family at home to take care of? While balancing nursing school with a family can be a big commitment, it’s definitely doable, and many nurses going to school later in life already have a family, often including multiple kids. If you have a family and are thinking about going to nursing school—or are already enrolled—here are eight tips for balancing it all and staying sane.
1. Talk about the changes with your family.
Before you start school or run out to purchase your scrubs, discuss all the coming changes with both your partner and the kids so everyone knows what is going on. If your partner is going to take on new responsibilities once you start school—such as picking up and dropping off the kids at daycare or taking them to doctor’s appointments—clarify expectations beforehand and work out a plan. Then let your kids know that you’re going to nursing school, and explain that everyone’s schedule is going to change as a result. If they’re younger, they may take time to adjust to the new routine, so be patient with them.
2. Create a master calendar.
Some people like to keep their work or school and personal calendars separate, but it will be a huge help for you and your partner if you consolidate everything into one master calendar. At the very least, the calendar should feature major events such as exams, recitals, and doctor’s appointments, and if you’d like you can get more granular and add your class schedule as well. And don’t forget to bring your partner on board and invite them to contribute to the calendar: They can add work trips and other major events from their schedule so you’ll have all the family commitments in one place.
3. Figure out your peak study periods.
Are you a morning person or a night owl? Would you rather get up at 4 a.m. and do your studying early before anyone else wakes up, or do you like to stay up late and crack the books after the kids have gone to bed? There’s no right or wrong answer, but your studying will be more efficient and you’ll retain more material if you work with rather than against your circadian rhythm. You probably already have an idea of when your most productive periods are during the day, so try to get homework done during those times whenever you can.
4. Make the most of nap time.
If you have little kids, you know the blissful quiet that (finally!) descends on the house when nap time comes around. While you may be tempted to take a nap yourself after running around after little ones all day, use this time to check some things off your to-do list: Finish that assignment, study for that exam, take care of that chore. After all, the more you get done during nap time, the less you have to get done either super early or very late in the day, when you’re less alert.
5. Determine what you’re willing to sacrifice.
You’re not a superhero. You’re only human, and you can’t do everything on top of managing your family and getting through nursing school. Before school starts, take stock of all the activities in your life and determine what you must keep and what can go. For example, you might not be able to spend as much time with extended family as you used to, or you might have to give up a time-consuming hobby such as knitting. At the same time, make sure you leave some time to take care of yourself: Maybe you give up the knitting projects, but you can continue to make time for your daily workout.
6. Schedule family and couple time each month.
Wrangling a family is difficult enough without adding nursing school to the mix. Despite the schedule chaos, do your best to block off at least one day or night a month for family time. Visit the zoo, host an at-home move night, or go out to a park together. And don’t neglect your love life either: If you’ve got a partner, aim to schedule one date a month if you can. Put away the books and stethoscope, get a babysitter, and enjoy some well-deserved time away from the kids, just the two of you.
7. Find a support system.
There’s a good chance there are other parents in your nursing program, so seek them out and make friends. They’ll understand the challenges you’re going through, and you can swap tips and babysitter recommendations. Of course, everyone in the nursing program is going through the same experience, but fellow parents will be able to sympathize with cramming during nap time and other strategies only moms and dads can understand. You may even become study buddies, as fellow parents will probably keep a schedule closer to yours, which makes it easier to find mutually available times to study together.
8. Consider a part-time program.
If going to nursing school full time isn’t feasible because of your family situation, don’t be discouraged—there are plenty of part-time nursing programs out there. Check to see if there are any part-time programs in your area; these programs will be spread over more months, but they’ll require less time of you each week. You can also look into online nursing programs, some of which provide on-demand video classes, let your work at your own pace, or otherwise offer a more flexible schedule to accommodate the demands of parenting.
There’s no denying that nursing school is challenging on its own, and having a family adds an extra layer of complexity. However, with hard work, planning, and prioritization, plenty of parents get their nursing degree each year and launch fulfilling careers in nursing. Follow these eight tips to balance your family life with nursing school.
Nowadays, you don’t have to go very far to look at your medical records; you can probably pull them up on your phone right now. Though the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) is pretty widespread, providers still face some major challenges, and health systems aren’t yet taking full advantage of the technology. One way this is obvious to patients and practitioners is through the absence of collaborative tools — if patients’ EMRs are so easy to access and share, why aren’t doctors collaborating with their other providers for the best possible care?
As professionals, we have to ask ourselves if it’s worth the investment. It’s clear that physician to specialist or physician to psychologist collaboration would benefit clients. Arun Gupta, the CEO of Quartet Health, argues that this is especially true in the behavioral health realm. Technology that could close communication gaps between physical and mental health — Gupta argues that, in these two areas, “a mountain of evidence to suggest that a bidirectional relationship exists” — could make care more effective and more affordable.
But how do we find smart, secure tools to link all of our patients’ providers? Adoption should be a three-step process. First, and perhaps last, we need to embrace the collaborative approach. Understanding why provider-to-provider or department-to-department communication is so useful will help justify the expense. And for doctors and specialists who take a value-focused approach, that might be particularly difficult. Next, we have to look into actual tools that have been developed for this very purpose and figure out how to integrate them into our practices.
Embracing the Collaborative Approach
Let’s take a look at some reasons why making EMRs more collaborative can benefit patients and result in improved outcomes. In a 2014 study published in the AMIA Annual Symposium Proceedings Archive, researchers compiled data from five American electronic health record (EHR) systems and observed provider interactions for 60 hours.
The study determined that the EHR itself played four roles in collaboration: as a repository, a messenger, an orchestrator, and a monitor, but that due to poor quality documentation, there was decreased trust among patients. The study concluded that “both organizational and technical innovations are needed if the EHR is to truly support collaborative behaviors.” So, indeed, there’s no denying the need for a collaboration-focused EMR. But what about this bidirectional business?
As Gupta points out in his essay, the most glaring missed opportunity for collaborative health care comes in the gap between physical and behavioral health providers. Gupta cited a recent study showing that people with asthma are almost two and a half times more likely to screen positive for depression, and that those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are more likely to suffer from depressive disorders.
But collaboration can be good for addressing the logistics and disconnection within health care, too. You may know that the Department of Defense instituted the Bidirectional Health Information Exchange (BHIE) in an effort to close the communication gap between the DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs, primarily to study pre- and post-deployment physical and mental health.
The Louisiana Public Health Information Exchange (LaPHIE) is a similar program that links providers between emergency rooms, primary care departments, inpatient units, and specialty ambulatory clinics to help address a broken HIV/AIDS care continuum in that area. A 2017 study showed that in the first two years of the program, LaPHIE saw an incredible improvement in the HIV care continuum.
Upgrading to Smart Medical Devices for Every Visit
We all know that high-tech medical equipment is a necessity of contemporary care, but we often don’t consider how much even the smallest, most commonly used devices can contribute to a better patient experience and a more collaborative approach. Streamlining data, and making it effortless to record and share, is the most important way to create secure, collaboration-ready EMRs.
Take, for example, the humble stethoscope. Once limited only to whoever was in the room, audio recorded from a digital stethoscope can now be effortlessly recorded and transmitted via Bluetooth to a smartphone or tablet. Gone are the days of describing the audio with the written word. If you’re a primary care doctor who needs to share your patient’s results with a specialist or surgeon, all it takes is a simple tap of the touchscreen.
For patients where monitoring vital signs over a long period of time is key, recording data sets through a digital patient monitor that measures ECG, heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen, breaths per minute and temperature, can help tie large data sets up in a nice, little bow. They now make smart attachments for stethoscopes and other medical devices that turn them into connected, collaboration-ready tools, so you can still use your preferred model.
Weaving in Software and Apps
The last piece of the puzzle is the hardest one, especially for large medical systems. Implementing new software is a challenge for any business, whether it be a family medical practice or a massive hospital system. But finding the right collaborative EMR software is an important step in implementing this methodology. It’s arguably the most important one, because it, as the previously mentioned study suggests, acts as a repository, a messenger, an orchestrator, and a monitor.
But finding software that fits the bill isn’t all that much of a challenge; Even Google has its own tools for health care providers. Theirs is unique in that it emphasizes the collaboration factor by allowing health care systems to easily and securely share X-rays, CT scans, and voice and video files through Google Cloud. Of course, if you haven’t yet migrated your EMRs to the cloud, it’s an important step to ensuring that records don’t get lost.
But what about HIPAA? Naturally, this is an issue that has held the industry back from certain technologies for decades — it’s why you still see so many pagers in health care facilities! But HIPAA shouldn’t be a roadblock. Make sure that you’re partnering only with HIPAA-compliant software providers and medical tools (those providers willing to assume liability for any HIPAA violations for failures on their behalf), using secure messaging and file sharing apps, and taking all the necessary consent steps before sharing any of your patient’s data.
Oncology is a challenging but rewarding nursing specialty. With May being designated as Oncology Nursing Month, it’s a good time for nursing students to learn more about becoming an oncology nurse and connect with oncologists who have made the great big specialty leap.
Is Being an Oncology Nurse Right for You?
All nurses should be compassionate, precise, and resilient. That said, oncology is a particularly challenging subset of nursing due to the nature of the disease. As an oncology nurse, your days may include monitoring a patient’s physical condition, handling medication, and administering chemotherapy and other treatments.
Alene Nitzky, a certified oncology nurse and author of Navigating the C: A Nurse Charts The Course for Cancer Survivorship Care, emphasizes that the work can be very demanding. “Make sure you are really driven to do this work and that you have a true passion because it is extremely physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding,” she says.
Since oncology can be so emotionally exhausting, it’s important to practice good self-care. Stepping back and focusing on rest and rejuvenation will help you return to the job with even more sensitivity, empathy, and emotional resilience. Nurses of all sorts need to be able to dig deep emotionally, physically, and mentally to persevere through tough shifts.
A small mistake in medication dosage or timing can have devastating effects for an oncology patient, so attention to detail is important. Good oncology nurses will notice even small changes in their patients’ charts and are the first line of defense if something is amiss.
Diving into the world of oncology nursing also means that you’ll have to be comfortable with end-of-life issues, including grief and loss. Oncology nurses have to hone the psychosocial side of their role in addition to the highly technical aspects of monitoring their patients. Knowing when to listen to patients and their families versus offering consolation or advice is a key challenge for oncology nurses.
Keep in mind that pediatric oncology comes with the additional emotional challenge of helping young children and their families. A keen ability to navigate emotionally-charged groups is a must.
If you think that you have the emotional resilience, technical precision, and compassion to pursue oncology nursing, this field is incredibly rewarding.
Words of Wisdom from Oncology Nurses
If you’re thinking of pursuing a specialization in oncology nursing, you’ll want to explore the various types of positions available.
As an oncology nurse, you may find work in a variety of settings. You can get outside the hospital to work in a nursing home or health care center. This is ideal for nurses who may enjoy getting out to work in the community.
Oncology nurses can also work in the private sector or be nurse entrepreneurs to expand their horizons beyond the traditional health care setting. Nitzky adds, “Nursing students should seek opportunities to talk with oncology nurses who have left traditional health care and work in the community or public health settings, because they will give you a much more well-rounded look at the value you bring to your patients and clients.”
It’s always smart to reach out to a variety of experienced individuals in your chosen field. Track down several oncology nurses who work in traditional health care, in the community, and in public health settings. This will give you a better idea of the field you’re pursuing.
You’ll do a far better job of helping patients if you’re comfortable. Take care of yourself with good compression socks and comfortable nursing shoes.
The same goes for your mental health. Compassion fatigue or emotional burnout is a real challenge for many health care professionals. Since oncology nurses often work with very sick patients, they need to take extra care to not take work home. It’s easy to constantly think about that particularly charming patient or worry about parents who are on shaky emotional ground.
Just remember that you can’t do your best work if you’re emotionally and physically exhausted. Find ways to disengage from your patients and their families when you’re away from work and ensure that you have healthy self-care routines of diet, exercise, and rest.
The Joys and Challenges of Oncology Nursing
The oncology nurses we spoke to all named the patients as their favorite part of the job. Even when a patient’s cancer is quite advanced or a prognosis is poor, oncology nurses love making a difference in quality of life. Every day that you work with a cancer patient is another opportunity to make their lives better, which makes the job worthwhile.
When asked about the hardest part of being an oncology nurse, Nitzky said, “The most challenging part of the job is not what you’d think. It is difficult to lose patients after you’ve gotten to know them and bonded with them and their families, but the most challenging thing about the work is that you don’t have enough time to do all the things you know would make much more of a difference because you have too many administrative demands on you coming from your employer. Nursing is more about computer screens and documentation than it is about patient care, unfortunately.”
How to Become an Oncology Nurse
Becoming an oncology nurse requires extra schooling after nursing school, like any specialty. After getting an RN license, a prospective oncology nurse will need to meet specific eligibility criteria and pass an exam. The exact parameters vary state by state, but advanced certifications generally require a master’s degree or higher in nursing as well as hundreds of hours of supervised clinical practice.
The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation offers a variety of certification options that you can pursue to stand out in a hiring pool and to further your knowledge of cancer care. Most certifications last for four years before they must be renewed with a recertification test or continuing education credits. To qualify, you have to spend at least one year working as an RN, work 1,000 hours in an oncology setting, and pass an exam. You can rotate into oncology units in many hospitals without extra certifications, but the knowledge gained with continuing education is worth its weight in gold to help patients further.
Checklist of Traits of a Great Oncology Nurse
- Emotionally resilient
- Adept at reading social situations
- Good at discerning when to listen and support
- Competent at self-care skills
- Comfortable with end-of-life issues, grief, and loss