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Nurses and other hospital staff often have to work over the holidays, so why not make the most of it? From implementing new traditions on your unit floor to relishing the light traffic during a normally busy week-day commute, holiday work can be as jolly as you make it. 

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Plan and prioritize 

Understanding the facility's scheduling policies and planning in advance can lead to a successful and stress-free holiday season.  

Connie Kartoz, Ph.D., RN, APN-BC, assistant professor and graduate coordinator at the College of New Jersey’s School of Nursing Health and Exercise Science, said that most facilities are good about having nurses only work 50 percent of the holidays. “If a hospital has six major holidays a year, nurses are going to be required to work three out of six.” 

Prioritize the holidays that are most important to you, and then put in a request for those days as early as possible. The majority of hospitals operate under the hierarchy of seniority, so senior staff nurses typically get first dibs on which holiday shifts to take off. 

“Be flexible,” Karotz said. “Particularly if you are in your first year and you don’t have seniority, you may not get your first choice, but if you can be flexible, sometimes you can make things work out to your advantage.”

Pay it forward 

We’ve all heard the saying, “Take one for the team,” and volunteering to work holidays that are not as important to you can mean the world to your nursing colleagues. If your big family gathering typically happens at Thanksgiving or you absolutely love the Fourth of July, you can sign up to work another holiday which will allow Christmas or Hanukkah to happen for one of your fellow nurses.   

“Recognize that you’re not in it alone. You are going to have many people working with you that day,” Karotz explained. “If you can turn it around to a sense of pride, that’s helpful too. It’s like a badge of honor.” 

Paying it forward oftentimes comes with some benefits and perks too. Although it varies from hospital to hospital, many states and facilities pay extra hourly rates or overtime for staff working federally mandated holidays. 

Travel nurses can also earn holiday pay - and some bonus points from the nursing staff for helping them enjoy time at home. Travelers also have the option of visiting family between assignments, which can be cheaper and easier than during the holiday rush.

Problem-solve and propose some fun

Take some time to identify the things that are going to help a holiday shift be fun for you and your colleagues, and also memorable for your patients. If you go in saying, “How can we make lemonade out of this?” you can create some nice experiences, and make it special for everyone all the way around. 

Simple gestures such as baking your grandma’s favorite pie, donning colorful scrubs, setting up a Secret Santa, organizing a group dinner, or adorning the nurses’ station with some festive decorations (where allowed) can make a powerful impact. 

Thinking outside the box is something nurses do best, and looking beyond the traditional holidays to celebrate and relax can be just what the nurse practitioner ordered. 

“There’ve been a couple of years where I’ve worked Christmas, but then I’ve turned that around and have had great vacations after the holidays,” Karotz concluded. “It’s pretty affordable to take a vacation on January 3rd because no one else is going.” 

Although most nurses have to work on holidays at some point, it might not be forever. Seniority helps, for every year that you do it, Karotz said. And many nurses branch out to other practice areas that do not require holiday work. In fact, only half of the nurses work inpatient, and many move to specialties such as community health, surgery centers, and other work environments where holidays off are the ultimate gift. 

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