Working a shift during a special holiday is often a fact of life for nurses. People need care every day of the year, and nurses are there to provide it, even if the rest of the country is taking a holiday.

As hard as it is to work on a holiday, it’s also something nurses adapt to, says Evelyn Kieltyka, FNP, MS, MSN, and president of the Maine Nurse Practitioner Association. “Nurses are very resilient when it comes to finding ways to celebrate the holidays on a day other than the holiday itself,” she says.

Nurses find they can still celebrate, but that the plans might have to be more flexible. “If [the nurse] has a family, the family may spend the day with family or friends,” she says. “The nurse and his or her family will then find a special time to have family time.”

Many families plan bigger gatherings near the holiday, but not actually on the holiday. For instance, your extended family could plan to gather the weekend before or after a holiday so you can attend. “I recall one nurse who always worked the night shift,” says Kieltyka. “The family would always celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. Then the nurse would go off to work the night shift.”

And as nurses gain seniority, they might have more flexibility when it comes to working a holiday shift if they really don’t want to. “There is, in general, a tradition (and maybe policy) to give preference to seniority,” says Kieltyka. “But it’s also the culture of fairness, in other words, the staff will look at the holiday season as a group and attempt to give nurses a preference.”

Depending on the holiday and a nurse’s personal traditions, dividing up the holidays can be easier for nurses, but it won’t suit your preferences all the time. It helps if you decide what holidays are especially meaningful to you, with the understanding that you’ll probably still work that holiday many times.

For instance, Thanksgiving may be an important holiday for one nurse but less important for another so staff take into consideration how important one holiday or another is to each individual,” says Kieltyka.

Younger nurses know that the nurses who have come before them have also walked the same path of trying to figure out how to be away from family and friends during the holidays without losing any of the holiday spirit. Sometimes, you will miss an important celebration because of work. But nurses know that going into the profession. And you also know you are not alone. You are part of an essential swath of nurses working on the same holiday and you share a bond of selflessness and determination that makes the profession so respected.

You’ll be working with a team who is in the same situation and caring for patients who can really use your holiday cheer. Being able to provide that is often so uplifting that it makes your holiday memorable even if you are not with your own family and friends.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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