How Nurses Make the Holidays Special

Patients benefit from the spirit these professionals bring—especially at this time of year

For most of us, the holidays come loaded with expectations and traditions, but being a patient during this time—whether it’s having testing done or a stay in a hospital or nursing care facility—can be challenging. It means being away from the comforts of home as well as friends and family. But caring for others is the essence of the holiday spirit, and if you’re a nurse, or training to work in the nursing profession, you know that patients count on you for nearly all aspects of their care. At the holidays, these healthcare professionals “on the front lines” play an even greater role.

It may be hard, as a nurse, to be away from your own loved ones when you’re working holiday shifts, but you can bring some of those same festivities and holiday cheer from home into the hospital or office. Here are a few ideas of how nurses can make a difference during these precious weeks:

Be sensitive to different cultures

First and foremost, be considerate by making space for whatever holidays your patients may (or may not) celebrate—and not just your own. Nurses tend to be good at tuning in to the needs of their patients, but at the holidays it’s especially important to be inclusive of everyone’s cultures and traditions. Find out whether your patients celebrate Christmas (in a religious or secular way), Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or another tradition. This will help you to know how to support them during this time. If you don’t know a lot about non-Christian traditions, don’t be afraid to ask. Curiosity and an open mind are generally always appreciated.

Take time to slow down

At this time of year, there may be fewer procedures scheduled, which can mean you have a little extra time to spend with your patients. Even just greeting patients with a “Happy holidays!” and good eye contact can help to keep their spirits up. People who are away from their usual support system may need someone to listen more at this time of year. Reserve some bandwidth so you can slow down and be present with them—as much as your schedule allows. This company can help patients avoid the loneliness and depression that can haunt them at this time of year.

Spruce up your workspace

Presuming your employer doesn’t have any restrictions, make an effort to decorate your workstation to feel homey and jolly. It can be as simple as hanging a string of lights, some tinsel, or a few ornaments. Or even just put out a plate of gingerbread cookies—which don’t even have to be home made. Play a little holiday music, and before you know it, your team as well as your patients may see their mood brighten. (Don’t want to spend money on trimmings or lug yours in from home? Check out these terrific ideas for DIY Christmas decorations. Who doesn’t love a Christmas tree made out of surgical gloves?!)

Play up the Santa angle

The great thing about Santa is that, to most kids, he’s magical. If there are kids in your workplace—either as patients or visiting family members—engage them in conversation about what they want for Christmas, whether they’ve been good this year, etc. If you have crayons and paper at the ready, they can draw or work on their list for Santa. The parents will appreciate it, and the kids will focus on something other than why they’re there.

Wear your decorations

Not supposed to clutter up the shared workspaces? Then make your celebrations personal. You can decorate your ID tag with some red and green pipe cleaners or construction paper, or wear holiday-themed jewelry. (A necklace or pin might be a better choice than earrings or a bracelet, if you need something that won’t get in your way when you’re working with patients.) Put red or green laces on your sneakers. You can even invest in (if your employer permits it) some holiday-themed scrubs!

Talk talk talk—and listen

As many nurses know, patients feel special when you ask about what they’re thinking and feeling. Engage them in conversation—especially about how they traditionally celebrate the season at home—to help them reminisce and connect with what they value. Here are some questions to ask, which don’t make too many assumptions (culturally or otherwise):

  • What holiday memories stand out to you?
  • What traditions in your family make this time of the year special?
  • What special foods do you enjoy during this season?
  • What song brings a smile to your face at the holidays?
  • What is your favorite holiday movie?

Here are more tips on how to build rapport with your patients.

Other ways to connect

  • Decorate patient rooms (to their liking). Bring in a few paper decorations—a tinsel garland, a paper menorah—and ask the patient if they’d like any of them put up.
  • Allow time for a meaningful family tradition or religious ceremony at the patient’s bedside.
  • Share your goodies, especially if the nurse’s station is over-loaded with sweet treats.
  • Help patients reach out to family and friends.
  • Do your best to accommodate any visitors the patient may be eager to see.
  • RSVP yes to any onsite family gatherings to which patients may invite you.
  • Use holiday greetings when you see patients and family members, especially “Merry Christmas!” on Christmas Eve or “Happy New Year” on New Year’s Eve.
  • Compliment patients—either on what they’re wearing, or on something less tangible, like their kindness or positive outlook.
  • Have something for everyone. Even if it’s only a candle or a holiday card with a few kind words, this can mean a lot to a patient who’s away from his or her loved ones.

This is the time of year to think of patients as friends and not to take them for granted. Invite them to feel like they’re an important part of a community. You’ll find it’s not that much extra work to make your patients smile at the holidays—and it will brighten those long shifts during the season for you, too! Maybe try to inspire at least one patient to smile every day. After all, the season is all about generosity and simple acts of giving to others. Happy holidays!

This post is part of the weekly blog of the Salter School of Nursing and Allied Health. We care about the health and well being of all of our students. Reach out to us at (603) 622-8400 for more information about our degree programs, or schedule a visit to our campus in Manchester NH for a tour. We hope your new career path starts with us!