Celebrating the Holidays in House

December 14, 2016 | Michael P. Gannon, MD
Career Development

The winter months are marked with numerous holidays of varying religions, cultures and ethnicities. They are a time for celebration and joy with family and friends. FITs are no exception to this. However, a field of 24-hour care, 365 days a year can pose a hurdle.

From medical students to senior faculty, someone must draw the short straw. Cardiac Care Units, cath labs and consult services must be covered. This time poses difficulties for patients and providers alike. Quality time with family and excellent patient care are both achievable keeping the following ideas in mind:

  1. Make plans: Have a gathering of people still in town either on the holiday or close to it. Anticipation and an event to look forward to will help pass the time and keep you occupied. Invite friends in the area or other colleagues who are in town for the holidays, as well. A potluck is a great way to ring in the holiday and test out recipes that you haven't found the time to experiment with.
  2. Visit the weekend before or after: Just because you are working the holiday doesn't mean you will be unable to celebrate with your loved ones on a different day. Visiting a subsequent weekend and having a delayed celebration is a great way to avoid the holiday blues. Flights and travel are often cheaper a week or two after. Quality time doesn't have to only be on certain days. With advanced notice, loved ones will be happy to accommodate your schedule.
  3. Use social media to connect with family and friends: With the rise of social media, staying connected miles apart is quite easy. Facetime or Skype are great tools to erase distances and feel as if you are in the room. Group text messages and pictures are an alternative to keep everyone included and great for a quick smile during a few down minutes while still at work.
  4. Bring the holiday to work: Preparing food and bringing your potluck to work can boost morale with staff and occupy your time in preparation beforehand. Bringing food for Thanksgiving, Santa hats on Christmas, or streamers on New Year's Eve are not the only ways to celebrate. Every patient may not share your holidays and professionalism should be upheld; however, a joyous attitude and simple "Happy New Year's" can set the tone of an interaction. Holiday cheer is allowed to be infectious.
  5. Patients would rather be at home too: The often overlooked aspect of the holiday scheduling woes is the patient. No one has gone through the amount of training and arduous journey without great empathy for their patients; however, keep in mind that the son, daughter or mother laying in front of you was not planning on being hospitalized for the holiday either. An increase in both cardiac and non-cardiac mortality has been observed on Christmas and New Year's days mainly attributed to a delay in treatment. Patients' reluctance to present to the hospital can have dire consequences. They may push for a speedy discharge in order to see family from out of town or finish their shopping, but keeping them out of the hospital is more important than getting them out. Families don't anticipate making life changing decisions instead of a Thanksgiving meal. Helping patients get home for the holidays or unfortunately guiding them in critical care decisions comes with the sacrifice of missing our own.

Even though we may not be able to make it home for the holidays, that does not mean we can't feel at home. This effort in learning to stay connected with those removed from you will serve you well in a field often filled with unforeseen events. This experience provides us a means to set priorities and adjust accordingly. The perspective of accepting sacrifices, both personal and professional, even when most inconvenient, at this point in our training will pave the road for a work-life balance seemingly under constant construction. And most importantly, Happy Holidays!

This article was authored by Michael P. Gannon, MD, a Fellow in Training (FIT) at Hofstra Northwell Health.

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