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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.
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