Nurse Confessions: The Trials and Blessings of Working during the Holiday Season, Part 1

This time of year can mean different things for different people.  As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us might say our biggest stress is planning the dinner menu, figuring out how to eat more than one Thanksgiving dinner in the same day to appease the relatives, or what our Black Friday bargain shopping game-plan will be.  For nurses and other healthcare professionals, their biggest stress at this time of year may be how to balance their family holiday celebrations with their holiday work schedule. 

Depending on how facilities coordinate and rotate holiday shifts, some nurses may not get to spend much time with their families and friends on Thanksgiving at all, but, as they tell me, that’s just part of the job!  I had the pleasure of speaking with three hard-working women in the healthcare field about what this time of year entails for them, and I found three common themes—dedication, hard work, and unwavering optimism! These are their experiences…

“Every day for me holds a blessing…”

Ashley Steiner, RN, BSN, has been a nurse in the OB/Labor & Delivery unit for eight years, with ten total years in the healthcare field.  Her unit’s rotating Thanksgiving schedule is allowing her to be with her family on Thanksgiving Day this year.  As she comes off her night shift early Thanksgiving morning, she’ll be trying (unsuccessfully, perhaps) to squeeze in a couple hours of sleep before beginning preparations for her family dinners. “It doesn’t stop me from enjoying my day with family, though I might be passed out after the turkey from lack of sleep!” she jokes.  It’s her sense of humor and positivity that help get her through the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Her family’s understanding also plays a pivotal role, as they willingly adapt to her crazy working schedule, and also make sure she gets her holiday meals regardless of the time or location, sometimes even delivering her “doggy bags” to the hospital.  When she’s not working, Ashley makes the most of the holiday season by spending as much quality time with her husband and step-children as possible, attending holiday parties, playing in the snow, and simply unwinding with their favorite movies.


On Ashley’s unit, they typically don’t schedule C-sections or inductions on the holiday itself, but of course, babies will make their grand entrance at any given time! Her unit is definitely fast-paced, but full of supportive, hard-working colleagues who make holiday shifts more bearable.  Also, she cherishes the opportunity she has not only on holidays, but each day she works, to witness new life being brought into the world.  “Every day for me typically holds a blessing, as I get to be the first one, in many cases, to congratulate parents on the birth of a new baby,” Ashley says.  It’s very evident that she has a gift for putting both her work, and her life into perspective.

“…there may have even been a version of ‘Baby it’s Cold Outside’ that we did a lip-sync video to.”

When nurses work close to home, they are usually able to squeeze some holiday celebrations with their families in around their shifts, but for travel nurses, their families may be hundreds or even thousands of miles away.  Gabrielle Carbonara, RN, BSN, knows that scenario all too well!  Gabby just began her fifth travel assignment less than a week ago, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and she’s already preparing herself for holiday work.  Without being able to make a flight home for the holidays this year, Gabby plans on volunteering for extra holiday shifts to allow her co-workers to spend more time with their families.  She admits that being thousands of miles away from her family has greatly affected her holiday experience, but she uses video calling programs and apps like FaceTime and Skype to see her loved ones onscreen and help ease the distance.

When she’s not working, Gabby chooses to beat the stress of the holidays and being away from home by attending yoga classes.  Yoga helps her relax, and distract her mind from feelings of worry and loneliness. “For me, I don’t think about anything else during that hour session [other] than yoga,” Gabby says. “Just taking an hour for yourself can make a big difference during a stressful (but normally happy) time of year.”

Gabby is also quick to make friends and build lasting relationships during her travel assignments, which has made many holidays away from home very memorable!  When working holiday shifts, especially during the night hours, she has had opportunities to laugh, have fun, and bond with her co-workers.  “We would bust out the holiday hats, play Christmas music while charting, and there may have even been a version of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ that we did a lip-sync video to,” Gabby recalls.

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She also fondly remembers one Thanksgiving in Oregon where her landlord, whom she became great friends with, included her in her family’s Thanksgiving dinner.  When you’re a traveler, your colleagues and new friends quickly become a second family in times when you need them the most! As for this travel assignment, Gabby has already begun to make new friends, and looks forward to spending some holidays together with them as well.

“My residents were like my extended family.” 

For most nurses, their profession is not one of convenience, but something they have been called to do.  For Capital’s Senior Account Executive, Ashley Lewis, hanging up her scrubs for the consistency of a daylight office job was not a decision she made lightly, but it does have its perks around the holidays!  Formerly a Charge Nurse/LPN, this will be Ashley’s second year in a row with uninterrupted family holiday time.  However, when she was still in the nursing profession, she was no stranger to working on Thanksgiving.  In fact, she volunteered to work on holidays to give her coworkers with children more time to spend at home.  “Most of my coworkers did [have children] and I knew how important it was to them to have this time with their family,” Ashley reflects.

Now that she will soon be having a child of her own, Ashley is grateful for the opportunity her new professional role gives her to be at home more during this time of year, but she does miss patient care.  Ashley’s residents were what made her holidays working as a nurse enjoyable and worthwhile.  “My residents were like my extended family.  I never felt stressed out during the holidays due to work.  It was my [actual] family that stressed me out!” Ashley jokes.  She fondly remembers the patients in the dementia unit enjoying Christmas carols and other holiday festivities.

Now that Ashley is spending her working hours in an office, she may not have one-on-one interaction with residents as she did before, but she is helping many nurses get to work each day, and that’s definitely something to be thankful for!

A Common Thread—Dedication

As each of the three women’s professional experiences differ, they all shared a similar response for one very important thing.  In asking what advice they would offer to prospective nursing students who may be hesitant or upset about having to work on holidays, a good summary of their responses is this—if you are choosing to become a nurse, you are putting other people’s needs before your own.  You are caring for human beings, and that doesn’t stop on Thanksgiving, or any other holiday for that matter.  Healing and caring for others involves sacrifice, and one of those sacrifices is your time.  But what I learned is, these women are both willing and honored to be doing exactly that.

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These women didn’t become nurses on a whim.  They became nurses because they genuinely care about helping others, and for them, that passion doesn’t have an off-switch during the holiday season.  Their patients and colleagues are very much like their second family, and their upbeat attitudes and unerring work ethic during the Thanksgiving holiday is a shining representation of the high caliber of people who proudly hold the title of “Nurse.”

Free Download: How Travel RN’s Stay Connected During the Holidays 

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Author: Michelle Adams

Posted by Michelle Adams on Nov 23, 2016 10:48:22 AM
Michelle Adams, Advertising and Social Media Specialist for Capital Healthcare Solutions and Harmony Home Healthcare, enjoys life in Southwestern Pennsylvania with her husband and beloved dog.


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