7 Ways to Make the Most of Your Holiday Nursing Shift


by Deborah Swanson

Ask any nurse working a holiday shift if they’d rather be home with their friends and family and they’ll likely say “yes.” However, patient needs don’t stop for the holidays, and most every nurse has to work at least a couple of holidays each year. That being said, working on a holiday doesn’t mean that your shift has to be completely lacking in seasonal cheer. With the winter holidays coming up, here are seven ideas to help you make the most of a holiday nursing shift, from seasonal scrubs to cookie swaps..

Decorate the lounge.

Get permission to decorate the lounge or nurses’ station, and then let your inner interior decorator out. It’s easy to get cheap, seasonal decor at party goods or home decor stores, and you can of course make your own DIY decorations if you’re feeling especially crafty. You can theme the decorations to match your setting—for example, stringing tinsel on the walls to look like an EKG reading—or you can keep things strictly holiday-focused with classic decorations. Out of respect for coworkers and patients, either keep the decorations nonreligious or try to represent winter holidays of various cultures (Chinese New Year, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.).

Create a common Christmas tree.

If you have room in the lounge or reception area, put up a small fake Christmas tree (real ones can trigger allergies in some people) and ask each nurse in your unit to bring in an ornament to decorate it. The ornaments can be funny, personal, sentimental—whatever they choose to bring in! If you want to get really elaborate, you can decide on a theme for the tree—for example, everyone has to bring a nursing-inspired ornament—or you can keep things eclectic and simply see what everyone brings. Or you can forgo the ornaments altogether and simply make a tree from scratch using surgical gloves instead.

Wear holiday-themed scrubs.

You can carry the holiday cheer with you wherever you go by dressing for the season. There are many (many, many) printed scrub tops with holiday designs available, with styles ranging from tasteful to the best kind of tacky. If you prefer a more subtle look, you can always combine red and green solid scrubs or wear holiday-themed compression socks under your pants. Of course, don’t forget accessories such as stethoscope charms, badge holders, lanyards and small jewelry items such as stud earrings. As always, prioritize safety first and make sure none of your holiday accessories dangle in such a way that they can snag on something or get pulled on by patients.

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Coordinate a potluck.

Besides gifts, delicious food is a major staple of holiday celebrations around the world. Rather than picking at hospital cafeteria food for the umpteenth time, get your coworkers together and host a holiday potluck. Have each person sign up to bring a certain type of dish (main course, side dish, dessert, drinks, etc.) and encourage them to make food from their religious or cultural background if they would like to share with the group. Nurses are already stressed enough around the holidays, so if some people in your unit would rather not cook, encourage them to bring a store-bought dish instead. After all, even pre-made mashed potatoes from the grocery store will probably taste better than whatever the cafeteria is offering.

Do a cookie swap.

If a potluck sounds like too much effort or you don’t have a lot of cooks in your unit, you can always coordinate a cookie swap instead. Invite each person to make or buy their favorite type of cookie (again, it’s a good idea to have a sign-up sheet of some sort so you don’t end up with too many duplicates) and then line the cookies up on the counter in the nurses’ lounge and let people grab them as they can. Even if people don’t have time for a full potluck meal, they probably will have time to eat a cookie or two! Definitely make sure the cookies are stored in airtight containers so they won’t get stale. If stored properly, the cookies will stay fresh for several days, which means that nurses across several shifts will get to partake in the cookie swap.

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Host an office Secret Santa exchange.

You should know who is working the holiday shift with you in advance, which gives you all a chance to plan a Secret Santa exchange. Have people randomly draw the name of someone else who will be working the holiday shift, and then set a monetary limit for gift purchases. If you want to keep things low key, you can just exchange one gift on the day of the holiday. However, if all the nurses in your unit are really close, you can spread multiple small gifts out over the course of several weeks to keep the holiday cheer going all season long.

Make the most of your breaks.

Working on a holiday can be even more tough emotionally than a regular nursing shift. If your break is long enough, use the time to call or FaceTime your family so you feel like you got to connect with them on the holiday itself, however briefly. If it will cheer you up, you can ask your family members to send you pictures of the celebrations so you feel included. However, if that will just make you feel what you’re missing out on even more acutely, put your phone down and use your break to catch up with coworkers you like instead. Even if all you do is commiserate about having to work the holiday, as least you’ll be getting in some social time. Plus, talking to people face-to-face releases the hormone oxytocin, which boosts your mood.

No nurse really wants to work a holiday—but someone has to do it–so you might as well have fun while you’re at it. Try one or all of these seven ideas to inject a little cheer into your holiday nursing shift (pun definitely not intended).


Deborah Swanson is a Coordinator for the Real Caregivers Program at allheart.com. A site dedicated to celebrating medical professionals and their journeys. She keeps busy interviewing caregivers and writing about them and loves gardening.

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.

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