The next couple of weeks bring on a holiday season filled with meaningful holidays that are especially tough on patients who are hospitalized, in nursing homes, or home bound.

Nurses expect to work some of the holidays that are special for them, and they know how hard that is. But they also know they are taking care of people who are also as saddened by not being home for the holidays and are too sick to have any choice in the decision.

As a nurse working the holidays this year, you have a chance to make a real and lasting impact in the lives of your patients in many ways. Of course, giving excellent medical care is expected, but being aware of the sadness patients might feel is equally important.

Depending on where you are working and the physical condition of your patients, you can extend some holiday cheer to patients and their families.

Nurses are keenly aware of how missing holiday traditions can impact patients,” says Evelyn Kieltyka, FNP, MS, MSN, and president of the Maine Nurse Practitioner Association.

Patients who have families nearby can help brighten the holidays as well. Spending time with a family member who is hospitalized over the holiday is so important to their recovery, says Kieltyka.

If family is around, encourage them to come in on the holiday if they are at all able. Discuss how many visitors are permitted and how long they can stay. Let families know that even a quick visit can significantly lift a patient’s spirits. “If family are close then of course spending time with a loved one on the holiday is the best outcome,” she says. “Bringing in decorations, food (if permitted), and other touches are great suggestions.”

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And nurses can also extend some holiday touches as well. Adding cheer, wearing festive scrubs, or just talking with patients about favorite holiday traditions can help ease the pain of being hospitalized over the holidays.

For patients, the human connection of just having someone else empathize with you and not ignore feelings of missing family keenly is often so soothing. But for nurses, the connection is equally heartening. Knowing you are helping make someone’s holiday brighter is especially gratifying.

You never know what you might learn about your patients, either. You could learn some great recipes from a dedicated cook or variations of traditional holiday songs you’ve never heard. Patients could inspire laughing fits as they tell tales of family holidays gone wrong or tears with singularly perfect holiday memories.

And if the holiday holds religious significance, be sure to ask patients about their preferences. “The nursing staff will also do whatever they can to make the day special for patients,” says Kieltyka. “For instance, if attending a religious service is important, the nursing staff will reach out to the hospital Chaplin to assist.”

And your mood makes all the difference as well. If you are upset working the holiday shift (a pretty natural feeling), your mood can rub off on the people you are caring for. Try your best to spread holiday cheer as much as you can, even if you don’t feel cheerful. You might find the positive reaction you get from those around you is enough to lift your own spirits.

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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