55 Tips to Survive a Long Hospital Shift

Hospital doctors and nurses define shift work. Standing on your feet, dealing with patients and trying to keep your eyes open are things hospital shift workers can do amazingly well. Here are a few more tips on how to get through a long hospital shift so that you still save your sanity and your patients.

  1. Gossip—so long as you can keep it from disrupting other workers’ lives, a little office dish can get you through a great many boring shifts.
  2. Get to know everybody. Chat with patients, talk shop with doctors, anything; a quiet evening is a long one.
  3. Music—so long as the rest of the office is cool with it, a radio or iPod can bring some tunes to a dreary shift.
  4. Dress comfortably. While this is a no-brainer for many, those shoes that looked great on your date last night might not feel great 8 hours into work.
  5. Stay on top of current events. Watch CNN or refresh news web sites when you can—it’s a reminder (sometimes pleasant, sometimes not) of the big, bad world outside the office.
  6. Make your area, your area. Wherever your designated workspace is, be sure to festoon it with family images and other pleasant, non-work totems.
  7. Establish boredom killing rituals. Even if it’s something as simple as grabbing a Coke at 3:00 pm every day, it gives you something to look forward to and breaks up the shift.
  8. Embrace the necessity of lunch—it’s time given to refuel your body and reconnect with coworkers and friends. It’s not time to catch up on yet more work.
  9. Chat up the boss when you can. Don’t be an obvious suck-up, but killing idle moments with the people in charge of raises and promotions is never time badly spent.
  10. Text messages to friends, family, and loved ones can brighten up the darkest day.
  11. As cliché as it is, embracing Sudoku or other brain boosters are good ways to exercise your noggin and fight boredom at the same time.
  12. Betting pools on everything from how many new patients are coming in to which doctors goes insane first are fun ways to fill your hours.
  13. Surreptitious e-mails are great ways to stay in touch with the outside world and still look very productive.
  14. Find a room with a view…a few glimpses here and there of a sunny day can brighten your day, no pun intended.
  15. Help redecorate the office if possible. Not only does it kill boredom while you do it, but it’s a way of psychologically controlling your surroundings.
  16. Go up to another nurse, bellow “Nurse Jackie,” and then duck behind the newly redecorated furniture to avoid the fireworks.
  17. Start a blog. It turns the boredom of everyday work into research for your next post.
  18. Turn trips around the hospital into exercise routines. Concentrating on burnt calories helps burn off boredom, too.
  19. Trade shifts, responsibilities…anything you can do to add some variety to your daily tasks.
  20. Befriend your coworkers. Hopefully this one goes without saying, but when “work with strangers” becomes “hanging out with friends,” you’ve got something good going on.
  21. Search for food beyond the hospital cafeteria. Finding out there’s food after those stale fries is the first step on the road to sanity recovery.
  22. Munching on breath mints throughout the day can help pacify hunger, and give you confidence in meeting new colleagues and patients.
  23. Take an interest in coworkers’ interests. Once you’re watching the same shows or playing the same sports, you’ll have a lot more to talk about.
  24. Periodically take time out of every day to remind yourself that no matter how bad your day is going, you’re helping change people’s lives.
  25. Research, research, research. Remember, the crazier the incident, the cooler your published medical journal article will be.
  26. Always have at least one non work-related book at work and at home, to provide another world into which you can escape.
  27. When possible, try to engage EMTs in conversation to hear some of the more exciting tales of life on the outside.
  28. Get plenty of sleep before your shift.
  29. Actually eat a real breakfast to prepare yourself from the day; breakfast shakes and bars are out of this picture.
  30. Embrace multiple cell phone alarms. The logical compromise between a single alarm and snooze-a-palooza is setting multiple alarms, ensuring you don’t sleep your day away.
  31. Learn to laugh at the little things, from the 3rd floor graffiti to the cavalcade of crazy patients.
  32. Periodically plan really nice nights out on the town, and give yourself something to look forward to, post-work.
  33. Drive or walk to work a different way throughout the week—starting your day off differently can change your entire work routine mentality.
  34. Learn to love medical journals, as they may be the only boss-sanctioned reading material. You’re not slacking, you’re learning.
  35. Visualize yourself in your ideal role at the hospital and shape your days towards attaining this goal.
  36. If possible, listen to an audiobook while walking around at work.
  37. Check out other departments. When your own crew’s gossip pool is getting shallow, check out what other departments are dishing about.
  38. Do all of your necessary errands before work or during lunch, so that you can head right to bed after a particularly harrowing shift.
  39. Despite the temptation, avoid caffeine pills and energy boosters. Even if the ride is steady, the crash is always worse.
  40. Carpool. You’ll get that karmic “gone green” vibe, and start the morning off with things to talk about.
  41. Avoid politics and religion. While this really should be “Workplace 101.” Don’t bring up things that would cause a rift between you and those you work for.
  42. Don’t count down the days until your next day off/vacation/whatever. As tempting as it is, it will make subsequent days drag.
  43. Don’t let it drive you down the deep end, but let the lives of patients give you guidance as to what you should (and shouldn’t) do with your life.
  44. If you’re willing to put up with strange looks, humming your favorite songs to yourself can make time fly by.
  45. Be involved in medical legislature at your local, state, and national level; you’re making a difference, and it makes a difference in your work, too.
  46. Find the office refrigerator and befriend it. It’s the healthier, less costly way of eating on the job.
  47. Avoid workplace romance at all costs.
  48. Let the stresses of work enhance your time off enjoyment.
  49. Let workplace confrontations work themselves out, lest you get wounded by the shrapnel.
  50. Spend every day at work doing at least one thing you’ve never done before.
  51. Actually have a conversation with a patient once a day or so.
  52. Buy the best pair of shoes for your poor feet and stuff them with cushy insoles.
  53. Pack your own medicine. You never know when you’ll be the one with the medical emergency.
  54. Balance your checkbook during your free time. Financial stresses lead to more stress in other areas of life.
  55. Try not to stare blankly at stupid patients. Yeah, you know you do it.