Working on Thanksgiving: What it’s like for Doctors and Healthcare professionals

working on thanksgiving

When you think of the doctors who have to work on Thanksgiving, you might expect to find a group of disgruntled professionals bemoaning the fact that they have to work a holiday. You would be surprised to find quite the opposite. Physicians who have to work the Thanksgiving holiday find that it can bring into sharp focus the things that they have to be thankful for.

We conducted our own review of physician posts, news items, blogs and forum posts and discovered that physicians usually have an optimistic view of working instead of feasting on Thanksgiving.

Dr. Carlos Sanchez, Emergency Department Medical Director at Providence Portland Medical Center in Oregon says it’s actually “one of the most fun days to work” because the patient volume is usually low during the day. The 25 clinical staff members create their own Thanksgiving Day feast as each brings something for the giant potluck spread. Dr. Sanchez said usually they have “three to four turkeys in the ambulance bay”. (We are assuming he means birds.)

It’s the early evening and night shifts that tend to get the most common Thanksgiving Day health problems like abdominal and chest pain, upset stomachs, and unfortunately, congestive heart failure. People with diabetes and high blood pressure show up as well because they have exacerbated their conditions by eating too much salt and sugar.

Then there are the knife injuries suffered during the traditional carving of the turkey. Fingers and hands are cut in ways that result in minor to serious injuries depending upon the size, and the sharpness, of the blade.  

The downside of working on Thanksgiving Day, but also the one that results in reflections of thankfulness, is treating those suffering from mental illness and depression that come to the emergency room. Holidays can worsen those conditions for those without families, in grief, or suffering from dual diagnoses like substance abuse. Seeing those who are suffering can quite quickly put one’s own fortunes into sharp focus.

For others, working holidays is a time to reflect on what they have to be thankful for. Dr. Todd Fijewski is president of the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians and a practicing physician in Pittsburgh. He says “Yes, there are quite a few family activities that we miss, but it’s worse to be the patient sick in a hospital on a holiday instead of being home and healthy with family.”

Other physicians enjoy working holidays because inevitably joyful things happen, like delivering babies and healing someone who is ill so they can return to their families.

It’s estimated that nearly one-quarter of Americans work on Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Day each year. The doctors among them always seem to find the silver lining.

Dr. Sudip Bose used his blog to post five reasons he is thankful to be a doctor, even when he has to work holidays. Dr. Bose is thankful for:

  1. The ability to help and heal
  2. Being supported by an amazing team of nurses, advisors, and aides
  3. Working in an age of breakthrough medical research and innovation to fight disease
  4. Having an abundance of resources available at his fingertips, online and through his medical colleagues
  5. Emerging technology and the lives it can save

A member of the student doctor forum articulated why working on Thanksgiving Day can be a breeze. It’s really the calm before the storm.

“Ya, the day after the holiday or long weekend is when the #@$%*! show really starts.” SaltyDog,

Perhaps physicians know what Henry David Thoreau knew all along:

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.”