Don’t say that the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) doesn’t know how to have fun—during the holidays, they definitely do. AACN is currently in the midst of their second annual Elf on the Shelf social media photo sweepstakes. And it’s hilarious.

(If you don’t know what The Elf on the Shelf is, he’s a doll that is said to watch over children during the holidays for Santa. Some parents have gotten creative and set up entire scenarios for him each night—and many put him in a different place in the home each evening, so that in the morning, children think he is watching them. Adults in general have done many other things with The Elf on the Shelf, many of which are also hilarious.)

Nurses at units all over the country are taking your average Elf on the Shelf and dressing him up, sending him on adventures, and making him a part of the health care community.

We asked some nurses who have participated the following questions:

  1. Tell us about your Elf on the Shelf.
  2. What was the response to your Elf on the Shelf (from patients, colleagues, etc.)
  3. What other activities does your team do to bring holiday spirit into the unit?
  4. How does that help your unit?

The answers from three nurses, and photo of their Elves on Shelves follow.

If you’d like to enter the AACN sweepstakes, visit their Facebook page here. Note that it ends on December 23, 6 a.m. Pacific time.

Now, on to the Elves…

Heather Woods, BSN, RN, NRP, Critical Care Manager at Schneck Medical Center, Seymour, Indiana:

1. We are starting our third year with our Elf on the Shelf. I was just beginning as a manager in 2016. I bought the elf to help boost morale on my units to encourage team bonding, creativity, and build good old Christmas spirit. The nursing staff had a contest on naming our elf. It has now become our tradition, and staff asked where our elf was this year.

2. The patients, families, nurses, physicians, and other employees love to see what adventures our elf has on the unit.  It amazes me how creative everyone gets with “Levophred” and “Amio.”

3. To bring Christmas spirit into the units, we adopt families and collect gifts for them. We go caroling together at the local nursing home. We pass socks, mittens, and blankets out to residents. (These items are provided by the staff.) This year, we added a wreath-making class into our activities. We do a traditional-themed Christmas party with secret Santa gifts as well. All of our events are decided upon with our unit-based council.

4. All of these activities really help boost morale in our ICU and Moderate Acute Adult Care Unit (MAACU) and bring our team together. I am very lucky to lead such a caring group.

Natalie Kresak, BSN, RN, Assistant Nurse Manager ICU, University Hospitals, UH Parma Medical Center, Parma Ohio:

1. The elves were inspired by all the employees in the Medical ICU at UH Parma Hospital. We work tirelessly and compassionately to provide the best care and experience for all our patients and their families just like Santa’s elves do! I made the elves using my cricut machine and decided the weekend after Thanksgiving (of course this was my weekend to work) to surprise the staff returning Monday to turn the unit into “Santa’s workshop” and spread the Holiday cheer.

2. The staff, families visiting, and all employees enjoyed the sight of the holiday elves. It brought a smile or laugh to them at times when sometimes that was impossible, given the setting.

3. We decorate every year with holiday-themed décor. We are a medical ICU department so we make heart rhythms out of garland and hang them up and add snowflakes to the windows of patients’ rooms with kind words on them. The staff also participates in a secret gift exchange to help spread the cheer amongst us all and partakes in a holiday party at a local restaurant or employee’s home.

4. This helps our unit feel more like home for the holidays to those who have to work and be away from their families, but also to the patients and families who are missing out as well. It brings us closer, sharing in gifts or treats that we exchange too!

Elf on the ShelfAlexandra Del Barco, BSN, RN, PCCN, TCRN, Senior Clinical Nurse I, and Tiffany Coleman RN, CCRN, TCRN, Clinical Nurse II, Neurotrauma Critical Care, R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland:

1. Two years ago, Tiffany Coleman introduced “Trauma Trixie” to our Neurotrauma Critical Care Unit. Tiffany hoped Trauma Trixie would bring holiday cheer to the unit as a center-piece for our decorations. She also anticipated Trauma Trixie would give us an advantage in winning the holiday decorating contest sponsored by the Shock Trauma Center Healthy Work Environment Committee. (This contest judges holiday decorations on units throughout the Shock Trauma Center to determine winners in various categories such as Craziest or Most Elegant.)

Our unit staff worked together to create different scenes with Trauma Trixie as well as to find creative ways to make miniatures of the equipment we frequently use on our patient population such as a Stryker frame to prone patients made out of Yankauers and a Halo vest made from pipe cleaners. Tiffany even created an Instagram page for her @ntcc_trauma_trixie.

2. Trauma Trixie helped the unit staff to bond as we all brainstormed different creative ideas on what poses and accessories she would take on next. Families thought it was creative and the administration did as well! The first year was such a success that we won the 2017 Holiday Decorating Contest!

3. Our unit loves decorating for the holidays to get in the holiday spirit. We have a Secret Santa gift exchange for those that want to participate and hold a unit holiday party. At this year’s party we will be exchanging Secret Santa gifts as well as announcing our 2020 unit goals.

4. Doing activities such as working together to decorate Trauma Trixie, exchanging Secret Santa gifts, and having a holiday party definitely helps with teamwork, unit morale, and nurse satisfaction. Neurotrauma Critical Care is a very difficult unit to work on primarily because of the nature of our patients’ injuries–traumatic spinal cord and brain injuries. Having activities that boost unit morale are important in fostering a healthy work environment.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.
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