What it's really like to work on Christmas Day in a hospital

05 December 2022 By Lorraine Gray

​While for most Christmas day means mince pies and watching The Snowman, we know for nurses and healthcare professionals it often means a day on the ward. Working in a hospital on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day is a sacrifice that we all appreciate and could not be more grateful for as exceptional patient care is available to all during that festive time.

We’re exploring some of the myths and misconceptions about working over the festive period and even providing a few tips and tricks to make it through a Christmas 12-hour shift.

Working on Christmas day: Myth #1

  • It’s depressing

Many nurses and healthcare staff will attest to the fact that there’s a sense of festivity on every ward over the holiday period and Christmas day often sees Christmas jumper competitions, upbeat patients and visitors, and a few Christmas treats here and there.

You have the mammoth task of leaving your own loved ones to be there for people who may have no one coming to visit or go home to, so it’s important to remember a kind word or conversation on Christmas day could really brighten their time in hospital!

Even amidst the pandemic, some hospitals allowed visitors on certain wards, and this added to the sense of fun. This year patient visiting will be dependent on hospital policy.

Working on Christmas day: Myth #2

  • You miss out on Christmas completely

The holiday period is about family and fun, two things we have access to all year round! Postponing your festivities and celebration till after the date, or even holding it a few days before means neither you nor your family miss out on spending some quality time together.

Working on Christmas day: Myth #3

  • It’s boring

Christmas day on any ward is far from boring! Many patients are sent home so they can enjoy themselves on the day, this means that the people who come in are usually emergencies and require quick clinical support and action.

The level of activity on Christmas day can vary from ward to ward, accidents and emergency will always be fast-paced and far from boring, and on the labour ward there’s the excitement of babies born on Christmas day or the first of the new year!

Tips to make it through your shift this Christmas Day

While we’ve outlined many of the reasons why Christmas Day shifts aren’t so bad, we also have a few tips to make it more comfortable and fun – some of these are good tips for shifts all year around!

1. Wear comfortable shoes

We know this is a staple of nursing and working any day in the hospital, but having comfy shoes on over the festive period is a must! There may be fewer staff in for the day as some prefer not to work the holiday so you may have to cover more ground to fill in for them. This can put pressure on your knees and back if done without properly supportive footwear.

2. Wear something fun and festive

Along with comfortable shoes, why not throw on a festive jumper or something fun in your hair like antlers? Many wards will have Christmas decorations up and wearing something yourself over this period can make it stand out as a special time, even if you’re working!

3. Bring treats and snacks

While the Quality Street and mince pies might be tempting at this time, remember to bring snacks that will release energy slowly and keep you energised throughout the day. This will help you remain upbeat and positive throughout the day without any lethargic slumps. It’s a long shift with a lot to get done during it, ensuring you maintain your energy levels and stay hydrated throughout is of the utmost importance!

4. Spend time connecting and talking with patients

While some people will have their loved ones around them on the ward for Christmas Eve, Day and Boxing Day, some may not have many visitors. Spending some time with your patients over this period to connect and listen will make a huge impact on them. Isolation, depression and anxiety abound when people are ill in the hospital and often exacerbates their conditions or injuries. You can make a big difference to them and lift their spirits.

5. Support your colleagues

You’re not alone when working over the holidays. Your colleagues are right in the same boat with you. Take the time to organise a little staff party or a secret Santa gift exchange to brighten their day and bring some fun to the day.

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