Every year in the early summer, the midwives in my practice start to think about the holidays. Who will work which holiday? Who worked what last year? And each year, the fall and winter holidays are divided among us, as fairly as possible.
Hospitals obviously never close for the holidays, so nurses, doctors, midwives, and ancillary staff have to make sure that there is adequate staff to care for patients. This reality is something I never thought of when I started nursing school, but it has been the reality of my life for the last 20 years.
There are other professions that require holiday work. Police, firefighters, and EMS obviously don’t take holidays off, but those who work in casinos, the food service industry, and gas station attendants are often required to work as well.
Most recently there has been an outcry because many retailers are opening on Thanksgiving, requiring their employees to work on a day they’ve traditionally had off.
The downsides of holiday work are pretty obvious. Missing out on celebrations with family and friends, inability to travel to distant loved ones, and that feeling that everyone else in your life is enjoying a day off while you are heading to work are just a few of the complaints about holiday work.
Despite the initial annoyance of working a holiday, there are often some positive aspects of holiday work. In my business, patients are extremely appreciative of the medical and nursing staff that are stuck working. No patient really wants to be in the hospital on a holiday either, so a smiling face and positive attitude from staff can make a huge difference.
Often, the staff that is working a holiday will throw a little party on the unit. If you can’t celebrate with family, you can celebrate with your colleagues. I have friends who use holiday work to their advantage, avoiding cooking, cleanup, or uncomfortable time with family members they don’t like.
Most places in the medical world offer some incentive for working holidays, like extra pay or a compensatory day off on a later date. People who work holidays often create new traditions with their families like opening gifts on Christmas Eve or eating Thanksgiving dinner the weekend after the holiday.
Working holidays is certainly not my favorite part of working in the medical profession. However over the years it has brought me awareness that not everyone is celebrating on holidays – some are sick, suffering, or just stuck at work. I also have a deep appreciation for those who do work holidays and do so with a smile on their face.
Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.