Nursing on Thanksgiving: a Different Kind of Blessing

When most of the business world is home, making cranberry chutney and decorating a dining area with cute items from the Crate and Barrel catalog, it is tempting to be bitter because you are at work on Thanksgiving Day. Fortunately, you can choose to employ healthy coping strategies. As a professional nurse, seek solutions that enhance patient outcomes, improve unit morale and uphold the caring mission of your employer.

The Challenge

Few people choose to work on Thanksgiving Day. But remember, even fewer people would actually choose to be a patient on a holiday. With that thought in mind, recall a career in the nursing field involves not only skills and knowledge, but caring and understanding attitudes as well. Finding answers to a troublesome situation begins with assessment. Do you feel resentful about working a holiday, despite the overtime pay? Do you feel guilty over being ungrateful for employment, given the current economic challenges of our country? Do you feel angry or “shafted” about leaving your family at home on a holiday? Admitting to negative attitudes opens the way to finding creative solutions. Even if your co-workers are less flexible and unwilling to tackle the challenge, make a personal pledge to do whatever is needed to make a successful transition.

Delivering Solutions

Several suggestions might help make the Thanksgiving holiday a more caring experience for all.

The Patient Encounter: Imagine going to a theme park for a holiday experience – paying a sizable amount of hard-earned money for an admission ticket, and having a wonderful time because the staff bent over backwards! Can you envision a parallel experience with an ill patient, their frightened family, and a nurse that goes the “extra mile?” Working on a holiday may afford the caring nurse a unique opportunity. As Patti Digh states in her book,Life is a Verb, “How are we changing the people around us by how we respond to them, or don’t?” She counsels others to give unconditionally and be fully present, listening to another’s story. This technique might be especially powerful with the elderly, the disenfranchised, and those who are alone on a holiday.

The Staff Encounter: Sharing a holiday work schedule might be a wonderful way to build stronger relationships with your co-workers. Since Thanksgiving is centered on delicious food, consider having a cooperative lunch on your unit. Everyone brings their favorite items to share, perhaps even swapping treasured family recipes. If your unit is staffed with people from various cultures, this might be a grand way to appreciate your co-workers by tasting something new. As Liz Scott reminds us, “Cooking is a great way to get back in touch with the things that brought us comfort.”

The Personal Encounter: Many nurses are expert with the care of others, and quite neglectful with the care of self. Over giving is often a signal that some need is not being met – a sure sign of “deprivation.” If you feel empty and resentful over working a holiday, heed the advice of author Cheryl Richardson: “In what ways are you starving yourself of what you need to live a rich and fulfilling life?” You may need to get more sleep, eat in a healthy way, develop a hobby, or foster meaningful relationships with family and friends. Cheryl’s slim volume,The Art of Extreme Self-Care, is packed with additional ideas.

The Final Step

If the next holiday schedule finds you working a shift or two, recall the words of famous American psychologist William James (1842-1910), “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” So stands the challenge: impact your patients, your co-workers and yourself in a positive way. Commit to creating a culture that makes a difference.

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