How to Manage the Holidays in Healthcare

Healthcare provides a myriad of lifestyle challenges for employees, especially during the holidays. We wanted to give you some practical, well-thought-out, and even time-tested insights about exactly how to handle the holidays. "Managing" the holidays doesn't quite get to the heart of it. No one wants to "manage" the holidays or "deal with it," but the reality for many healthcare workers is that the holidays are just difficult.

We asked three nurses in our hometown of Nashville, the healthcare capital of the country, how they manage the holidays and maximize their time with family, friends and at work. They have different areas of care, different employers, and different ages, too! Hopefully, you get some practical ideas that will help you not only "deal with" the holidays but enjoy them even more than you had planned.

Beth Quinn

Nurse for 35 years St. Thomas West, Nashville TN Nursing Supervisor; Critical Care

What's your favorite part of the holidays? Time spent with family.

What's the greatest challenge for managing the holidays as a nurse? My family lives in town, but it's more difficult for those who live far away from their family. I've worked at three different hospitals, and every one required you to work either the holiday, the day before, or the day after.

What's your solution for nurses that have to travel to see family? If you have to travel, make arrangements with other nurses so they take two days and have at least one entire holiday off each year. For example, I worked Thanksgiving this year, not Christmas Eve this year, then next year, I'll flip it.

What's your challenge as a nursing supervisor? The challenge is not the actual holidays as a supervisor. It's the day before (or after) that are challenging because during the holidays, we're well staffed on those days.

How do you make sure you're well-staffed the day before and after? Typically the number of patients not just staff is low before and after the holidays, so it works out because we actually need less staff. If for some reason, though, patient numbers are not down, you have a potential of working with a shorter staff. In that case, you have your own temporary family who happens to be at the hospital that day. It's a good sense of community; this is my work family. In fact, the list for food sign-ups is up this week.

What tips do you have for other nurses for managing the holidays?

  • Create another day besides the holiday itself to be with the family. It can be just as much fun to do Thanksgiving on Saturday, if that's all you can do.
  • For newer healthcare workers: If you're going to work in the hospital, they're open 24/7, 365 days a year, so that needs to be an expectation getting into it. Other traditional employers may have this day off, but you don't. (Exceptions like if you're working at a doctor's office, is something to consider, because it may close for the holidays.) Hospital nurses don't really have that option. Finding the best fit for you is important for managing the holidays, so be aware of it as part of the job.
  • With the new staff, do you see any major issues? No, most of them realize they have to work the holiday. The only drama that usually happens is when someone's flying back to work, and there's unforeseen weather at Christmas. People anticipate what day they get back, but they can't always make it because their flight is delayed. Anticipate this by returning a day before, not the night of when you're going to work the night shift. You need to come in the day before. The basic rule of thumb is to get home 24 hours beforeyour next shift, but sometimes that doesn't even work due to heavier weather! So plan ahead and create margin.

Ashley Shaffer

Nurse for 5 years Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, Nashville TN Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

What's your favorite part of the holidays?  Christmas Eve. This is my favorite day of the year. This has to do with Christmas Eve church service, as well as family and friends getting together. Seems like everything slows down and there's something about Christmas Eve that is sacred and makes the world slow down.

What's the greatest challenge for you as a younger nurse managing the holidays? Scheduling, because people don't stop getting sick and babies keep coming. I work in the NICU, so infants that are sick need 24/7 care, so our job doesn't stop when the holidays start. It can be challenging to manage my schedule because I do not have much seniority yet. I usually end up working the holidays, just like many others, depending on the unit. Our unit organizes it so that you either get Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. But, this is my first year where I don't have to work Christmas Eve in almost 5 years. It takes a while to have more options, so I'm excited about this year.

What's your solution to that? Vanderbilt Children's hospital does a great job, especially the NICU. They create Christmas in the unit. We have lots of fun on Fridays ("team Fridays"), where we have a theme and we wear Christmas socks, sweaters or something with the Christmas season to raise the morale. Then, we celebrate with our patients and their families. Last year we did a cookie drive with our families. All the nurses made cookies for the month of December for all the families in the unit who had to spend time away from their families. When at work, we try to focus on the patients and their families. It helps to realize that they're also not with their families. So, while you're missing out on the holiday things like Christmas Eve and Christmas Day those patients are also missing out on those. Keeping that perspective really helps.

What tips do you have for other nurses for managing the holidays?

  • If I work the holidays, pick another day to celebrate with your family (usually families that have nurses in them understand). That's how it goes. Even though December 25th is Christmas, you may have to celebrate on the 26th, and that's ok. As long as you get to be with the people and do the things that make Christmas important to you.
  • Holidays can be hard on nurses, because maybe it's something about the winter where, especially in the Children's hospital, we see an increase of resperatory infections and even among some of our nursing staff, too. So, it's really important to take care of yourself. I make sure to get enough sleep and to not run myself thin. This means I can't do everything others are doing during the holidays. With the already-existing stress of the holidays, it can run my immune system down, so I try to take a step back when I need to.

Cheryl Tuscano

Option Care Infusion, Nashville TN Clinical Transition Specialist

What's your favorite part of the holidays? Having all my extended family and the kids all of us being together. Just spending time with them; I love that.

What's the greatest challenge for managing the holidays? Every year this season's tough because when I worked in the hospital, I had to work either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. For me now, though, it's a very intense time for insurance companies. Everyone's trying to get procedures and surgeries done. It's just a busy time. With what I'm doing now, they're trying to get everyone out of the hospital. It feels kind of like a rate race. My struggle, really, is that I start feeling sorry for myself, actually! My kids' schedules are winding down, and it's not the busiest time of the year for my husband, so I am always the one working.

What's your solution to that? To simply recognize that this is a tough time for me. It's really important for me to go ahead and admit that it's tough. Then, I can, and I hate to sound cliche, but kind of let myself be in the moment with what people around me are going through (the cliche is to "count your blessings"), I realize that I really have an awesome life. It's getting my mind around that and being in the moment with what people are going through. I've had to make a decision that I'm going to be here with them. To me, that changes everything when I surrender to it. Also, more practically, I suggest asking for help. I've been very open with my family with what my needs are. My husband is awesome and he asks, "What can I do for you? What do you need to be done? How can I support you?" That's huge. Some women don't ask for this, playing the martyr, and trying to do everything. It's hard for a lot of women to say, "I need help," but it's a big thing, even if it's not your husband, but someone supportive in your life. I am tempted to put a lot of pressure on myself, try to do everything, and peter out. I used to get resentful, but asking for help has helped me tremendously.

What tips do you have for other nurses for making it through the holidays?

  • Get organized. Look at your week and see what you can eliminate for the week. Try to take things off your schedule, because I know that when I've tried to do everything, I've failed many times.
  • Plan time to rest.
  • Plan time to run errands.
  • Don't feel guilty about taking things off your schedule.
  • Delegate when you need help doing something big like pulling together a big meal or hosting. People want to help, because they want to spend time with you. They just need to be told how they can help.

Want more tips for handling holiday stress? Here's how to survive when you work over the holidays!

Chad Harrington