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7 under-appreciated benefits of working as a nurse on Thanksgiving

Helping with the Thanksgiving outreach were: Sarah Dworcan, director of Palm Beach Synagogue's youth department and Project Connect; Cathy Chiat, director of nursing at VIP Kidz; and Susie Mantilla, VIP Kidz administrator.

It may not be your first preference, but working on Thanksgiving is commonly your only choice if you’re a nurse, particularly when you’re getting started with your career. But you can trust veteran nurses and career experts when they say Thanksgiving duty isn’t all bad.

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In fact, you don't have to look very hard to notice that working on Turkey Day presents certain hidden advantages, some quirky, some substantial. Here's a heaping helping:

It's a time to bond. Elizabeth Binsfield has been a registered nurse for 20 years and rarely works the holidays now, but she says she reaped benefits from working on Thanksgiving earlier in her career. "We rotated holidays every year on my floor," she remembered. "If you worked Thanksgiving, you had Christmas off. It was the same with New Year's Eve and New Year's Day and Memorial and July 4. And then the following year it was all the reverse. We were a close-knit floor and regarded each other like family so we all wanted each other to have adequate family time."

You may score an extra celebration. So what if the workplace Thanksgiving most closely resembles "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" with the popcorn and jelly beans? If you're a fan of holidays, you'll probably get the chance to celebrate twice. "We usually had a mini- Thanksgiving meal in the break room and would cover each others' patients to make sure everyone had a break," Binsfield added. "It was a good team-building shift."

You save money on travel. Normally—when there isn’t a global pandemic stalling travel plans, Christmas and Thanksgiving are two of the most expensive times of the year to fly, and that doesn’t even count the wages lost from taking off four days in a row to make the plane travel worth it.

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Free decorations! If your family has agreed to postpone "the big meal" for a day or two or they will be meeting at your house after your shift, you may be able to bring free flowers or decorations from work. "Okay, so this may be a stretch and you might have to tussle with others over this one – but you can probably totally score all the sweet decorations for each holiday before they get taken to the garbage!" Advanced Travel Nursing noted. "We know you've been spying... that turkey centerpiece in the breakroom. Just ask around, you don't want to be known as the office Grinch."

You can really enjoy Friendsgiving. Now that gathering with friends sometime near Thanksgiving, but not on it, is a thing, you won’t feel so left out if you miss Thanksgiving Thursday because you’re at work—even if you’re only gathering virtually! In the future, if you are fretting about not getting to make your famous yeast rolls or sip wine with your sisters on Thanksgiving, you can always move those observances to the Friendsgiving.

You can avoid toxic relatives. Not trying to be cynical here, but some Thanksgiving meals revolve around family rivalries, judgmental relatives pushing unsavory political views and displays of substance abuse disorder. You'll avoid the whole circus, and even the most hard-headed family members understand, "It's hospital policy, I have to."

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You'll make more money. If you're thinking, "Shouldn't this be the first advantage?" well, no. Extra pay sometimes can't overcome missing time with family during the holidays. But it is definitely something to think about when you're deciding whether to volunteer for Thanksgiving shifts or are anticipating having to work them no matter what you'd prefer. "Your hospital almost certainly has some sort of monetary perk to working over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's," according to Advanced Travel Nursing. "Check with your department to see what kind of extra incentives are offered by working on these days. You barely remember missing the first helping of cranberry sauce when your paycheck is fatter than a stuffed turkey."

You have a chance to give back. There are certainly career benefits of being seen as a team player by volunteering to work the holidays, and you may draw positive attention to your workplace by being a cheerful presence on Thanksgiving. But nurses who volunteer to work Thanksgiving or another holiday shift also turn the thoughts of deprivation around by considering the experience as a chance to gift co-workers, management and patients."For some people, working on a holiday can be a great gift they give to others who really want to have special family time, and for others, it's a total burden," Marsha Egan, a workplace and e-mail productivity coach, told Forbes. "It depends on your situation and your frame of mind. If by chance, you have been asked, or pressured, or requested to work on a holiday, once you have made your case to try to get out of it, accept your situation, and make the best of it."

This story has been updated to reflect the unique challenges of the holiday season in 2020.

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