November 23, 2022

17 Tips for Working During The Holidays as a Nurse

Working holidays as a nurse

By Chaunie Brusie

Look, there’s no way around it: you’re a nurse, odds are, at some point in your nursing career, you are going to work a holiday. 

Some nurses appreciate the opportunity to make a little extra money and staff the unit on what “could” be a lighter day (you won’t see me using the “q” word, even in written form, don’t worry), while others may be mourning the loss of what may be some of the most hyped days of the entire year.

No matter how you’re feeling about working the holidays this year–and we’re well aware that some of you may not even have a choice with how understaffed many hospitals are right now–we hope we make working through the holidays just a little brighter with a few tips. 

1. Organize some holiday festivities

Working a holiday doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom—you can have some holiday fun even when you’re working by decorating your unit, or organizing a Secret Santa gift exchange. (There are plenty of easy Secret Santa generators online that use email or text to make it easy too!) 

2. Order a tasty meal for delivery to your unit


With many states shuttering dine-in eating for two or three weeks at the peak holiday season, the hard truth is, many restaurant owners and staff are going to miss out on a lot of money that they desperately needed. We’re talking moms, dads, college students, and struggling families who depend on this time of year to make up a bulk of their income–and now it’s been taken away (and probably will be extended too.)

So, if you can, try to pool your unit together to spring for takeout or a carryout holiday spread. You’ll be supporting a small business that desperately needs help during this time and filling the bellies of you and your coworkers as you face yet another hard day at work. 

3. Use technology to stay connected

This is the era of Zoom and FaceTime and connecting is never more important than around the holidays. If you’re able and it works out with your family’s timing, be sure to coordinate with your coworkers so you all get a chance to check in with your families during breaks. If the kids are baking cookies, digging into presents, or lighting up a candle, there’s no reason you can’t video chat your way to join in the festivities too. Just remember to maybe take off the N95 so they can actually see your beautiful face. 

4. Spruce up your unit with an Elf on the Shelf

Sure, you might scoff at the idea or even—as my 11-year-old has done—dub an Elf on the Shelf “creepy,” but you can’t deny that the best way to spread holiday cheer is by singing loud for all to hear. Or, if you can’t sing, by bringing a little bit of merriment to your unit with some creative and fun Elf on the Shelf antics. 

5. Don’t be bashful about asking for leftovers

Listen, no shame = potential weight gain. You know all of those family and friends chowing down on their holiday meals and desserts will be more than happy to wrap up a plate or two for you to enjoy when you’re done, (you know, saving lives and stuff?) so be sure to pipe up and ask them to save some leftovers for you. 

6. Cha-ching! Go ahead and calculate all that holiday pay

Hey, if it helps you get through the pain of missing out on family time, who are we to judge? Go ahead and make a mantra of that double-time pay as you sprint down the hallway (yet again) to your crashing patient. 

7. Splurge on a nurse-approved gift

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Listen, 2020 was supposed to be the Year of the Nurse, remember that? Ha! Pardon our French, but what a downright shitty year for nurses 2020 turned out to be...and it is still continuing into 2021. So the least you can do is treat yourself to something that brings joy to your life.  You definitely deserve anything off of this nurse gift guide. 

8. Nurse friends and work-wives (or hubby) are the best  

When you're a nurse, no one "gets you" like a nurse friend. And, if you're working together on a holiday - even better. The holidays definitely aren’t the same as they were pre-pandemic. Some families are choosing to stay home, stay apart or host virtual celebrations again this year, so if you’re scheduled to work, maybe it can be somewhat comforting to remind yourself that at least you’re not alone this holiday season. Maybe? Maybe you can convince yourself that tending to a packed unit beats staying home alone ordering takeout turkey? 

9. You Matter and Are Doing Important Work

In the grand scheme of things, you are literally changing lives every day by just showing up to work. Working in the middle of a pandemic is hard, no one needs to tell you that. I know. But, when you look back at this time in 20 years, hopefully, you'll know that you gave it your all and you did the very best that you could. Florence Nightingale would be proud of all of us. Thank you for all that you do. We NEED you. 

10. Use a Santa schedule letter

If you have kids and celebrate with Santa in your home, there are all kinds of super-smart and festive printables available that can help explain to your little one why Santa will be making a special stop at your house outside of Christmas Eve.

This printable letter, for instance, explains that Santa has a “special” present for your little one that has to be delivered early because it won’t fit in the sleigh or this one that is specially designed for military and first responder families (nurses totally count on that). 


11. Give yourself the gift of getting off the hook

If there’s one good thing that comes out of the holidays is this year, it’s that frankly, anything goes. Want to stay home in your jammies and eat Chinese takeout? Go for it. Don’t have the energy to wrap presents? No one’s judging. Do holiday cards sound like an absolute joke? We understand. If nothing else, at least give yourself the gift of getting off the hook of whatever holiday obligations normally bring you down–last-minute Christmas shopping included. Because hey, you can’t go into the stores after being on the COVID unit, right? #AmazonPrimeEverything

12. Rock some holiday wear at work

If you can’t be home for the holidays, you can at least bring the holidays from home. Just take this nurse, for instance, who, when she had to work on the 4th of July, made sure to deck herself out in red, white, and blue to celebrate. And as an added bonus to making your day a little more festive, odds are that decking your own halls will help lift your patients’ spirits too. 

13. Post a holiday selfie

May we just say that if the spirit strikes you, consider posting a holiday selfie to give a shout-out to all of the amazing nurses, CNAs, NPs, and other healthcare professionals who keep the world safe and healthy during the holidays. 

You deserve to feel proud of the job you are doing—and the world deserves to recognize that you’re clocking in while they’re digging into dessert. #nursessupporttheiryoung, especially on holidays. 

14. Play Secret Santa at work

I’m no longer a floor nurse, but I well remember those days of working holiday shifts and missing out on family time. This year, more than ever, I am constantly thinking of the nurses and healthcare workers who are out there working the frontlines, battling burnout, and overall dealing with some of the hardest challenges many will face in their careers. 

And while I’m at home with my own kids managing remote learning and working from home, I’ve found I can still “work the holidays” in spirit by acting as a Secret Santa of sorts. My go-to? Sending Starbucks cards to nurses that I know of. It’s super simple, takes me seconds through the Starbucks apps (and not to be selfish, but it also earns you points towards your own coffee that way, ahem) and it’s a small way I know I can put a smile on their faces–and caffeine them through whatever lies ahead. Steal my Starbucks idea or come up with your own fun way to spread holiday cheer: maybe it’s a basket of holiday hand sanitizer you pass out, a few scented hand lotions, or a box of chocolates.

15. Spend your downtime dreaming of a post-pandemic vacay

16. Put in EARLY requests for time off and PTO

Nurses aren't usually allowed to take off every holiday(or holiday-eve for that matter.) When it comes to holidays, you will likely have to work some of them, 

  • Thanksgiving eve or Thanksgiving day
  • Christmas eve or Christmas day
  • New Year's Eve or New Year's day

So, if you are set on having some of those days off - make sure to put in your PTO request early. 

17. Put yourself first sometimes, self-care matters

I know we're in the middle of a pandemic. But, it's still important to try to add in some self-care. 

If you’re thinking about becoming a nurse, are a nursing student, or are a current nurse who is ready to transition careers - this guide will help guide you to make the best professional decisions.

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Someday, this will all end. Someday, your unit won’t be short-staffed, patients won’t be flooding into the ER by the masses, people won’t be arguing about masks and you won’t have to weigh the guilt of skipping out on the holidays vs. potentially infecting Grandma over that Christmas ham or holiday latke. 

And when that someday comes, you can bet your buns that you should celebrate by taking a well-deserved and by then, much-needed vacation. So until that time arrives, you can pass any downtime you get over your holiday shifts by dreaming of where exactly you will go for that first glorious post-pandemic vacation. Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals! 

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