As a health care professional, you never know what the day will bring when you walk onto your shift. Some days when you think you’ll be a busy nurse you end up with little to do and other days you think will bring an empty floor will be so busy that you scramble to call in more staff.
Then there are some days when many units regularly seem to brace for impact, just in case. Some might seem more like myths than statistical facts, while others are planned for by staffing coordinators in hospitals around the country.
If you’re new to staff scheduling or working in a hospital for the first time, or you’re just wondering when might be the busiest days to expect, here are some ideas.
Busy Holidays Means Busy Nurses
You’ll likely see the most activity in hospitals around major national and state holidays. Many big holidays are known to feature celebrations involving alcohol, nice weather with long weekends and time off, fireworks, or food and drink that people don’t normally indulge in. All of these can be a reason you’ll see a noticeable uptick in how busy your floor is.
Of course, it also depends on your state and even your city. And it definitely depends on what specialty and floor you’re working in, as some that are less emergency- or urgent care-based are more likely to see a decrease in activity instead. In particular, there are some holidays that many hospitals know to brace for.
Known in some circles as the opening day for trauma season, Memorial Day is the first “summer” holiday in the United States. And with the warmer weather and three-day weekend comes an increase in risky behaviors like travel, excessive drinking, and outdoor activities that can cause major accidents, like ATVing or boating.
The next big summer holiday is the US Independence Day. Not only is it another common holiday for excessive drinking, but that in combination with the mid-summer heat can lead to heat-related illnesses quickly.
Then there are the fireworks. All it takes is a quick listen to dispatch radios to know that there’s a common trend of injuries from misusing fireworks during this holiday, whether that’s shooting them at friends, lighting a defective firework that explodes too soon, or trying to see what happens when you put lit fireworks in a spare toilet. Data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) shows that ER visits spike on the 4th of July.
As the last national holiday of the summer, Labor Day weekend is usually the final hoorah for many people, especially families, as many schools are kicking off for the year and the weather starts to turn colder or wetter. They’re likely to be traveling, and more people traveling means it’s more likely for car accidents or other accidents at their destinations.
Once again, it’s also a common holiday for celebrations involving drinking and outdoor activities.
Thanksgiving and Christmas
The reason these late-year holidays are often the busiest days in hospitals might not be entirely what you’re thinking. It’s sometimes not the actual holidays themselves but the days following them.
These are typically big family holidays. And because of that, many sick people might want to tough it out through the holidays before going in to get medical care so as not to “ruin it” for the rest of the family. Conversely, with all the family together, arguments and fights are likely to break out and require a trip to urgent care.
Additionally, these big holidays are food-heavy, and people with illnesses either controlled by a healthy diet or triggered by certain foods might indulge in what they shouldn’t. Emergency departments might also see injuries related to food preparation, like deep frying frozen turkeys or cutting vegetables so quickly a finger or hand gets caught.
And then there’s Black Friday. People wake up incredibly early for the desperate chance of finding a good deal to save some money. Sleep-deprived and anxious people crammed into tight places together with only a small supply of what they demand results in annual fights, injuries, and sometimes even death.
In some states, it’s also the start of the winter season. There might be snow or ice on the roads and sidewalks that people can’t see, especially early in the morning when it’s still dark. That plus the crowds leads to accidents that can cause severe issues.
On the last and subsequent first day of the year, you’ll see a lot of people letting it go at parties. Alcohol-related injuries and even deaths ranging from alcohol poisoning to drunk driving accidents are incredibly common on New Year’s Eve as people ring in the new year.
Every state and city has its own local-based events that hospitals just learn to anticipate. It could be a music festival or a state holiday.
In one particular hospital, a local monthly concert series during the summer months regularly brings in revelers who get injured from being high on drugs and alcohol in a party environment or who have heat-related illnesses from being outside all day and not hydrating. Those are all the same concerns for hospitals and busy nurses in the midst of Mardi Gras celebrations.
Busiest General Days
These days come more regularly than the annual holidays. If you ask around what the busiest and craziest days are, especially in emergency and urgent care departments, you’re likely to hear a lot of health care professionals talk about these days.
If you’ve ever worked with emergency medical services, you’ve likely heard all about full moons. Many hospitals will not see an increase in patient numbers during the day before, of, and after a full moon. Multiple studies haven’t found any signs of full moons affecting hospital admissions, whether it’s the rate of admissions of trauma patients or pediatric psych patients visiting emergency departments during full moons.
But you can still easily find countless emergency and mental health workers who will tell you that full moons bring out the weird and unusual cases. Even if the number of people they see doesn’t change, the type of cases patients tend to bring during the full moon just seem to stand out more.
Friday the 13ths
Just like full moons, you’ll hear stories about Friday the 13ths. Maybe it’s just superstition influencing how we as staff perceive things. Or it might actually be busier than normal in emergency services as superstition gets a hold of the general public combined with the start of a weekend. But it could also just be that the date just seems to attract the crazy.
Busy Seasons for Nurses
In addition to days, it’s pretty important to mention certain seasons or periods of weeks to months that many hospitals keep track of due to the higher chance their departments will be busier than the rest of the year.
This season is particularly well-known in pediatric units. The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is incredibly contagious and common for kids younger than two years of age. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a cold, and other times the symptoms are a lot more severe.
Pediatric floors know to brace themselves when the winter months roll around, and peak RSV season is generally December to February in many areas. It isn’t always busy, of course; that strongly depends on how common the virus runs through your community that season. But if you’re just entering pediatrics, it’s an important time of year to be awaare of.
In certain parts of the U.S. on the coast, many cities and states know to brace for hurricane season. Even if the hurricanes that come in that year don’t cause extensive death and damage, they are still a huge risk to people living in affected cities.
And the risk doesn’t just come when the hurricane hits and the immediate aftermath. In the days leading up to landfall, it’s likely there will be many accidents from people trying to get out of the area or prep their houses.
The most obvious season that hospitals brace for is flu season during the colder months. These months see kids returning back to school, and people are more likely to spend most of their time indoors with one another. So the flu can get around quickly.
Flu complications can get to be severe, and tens of thousands of people die from the flu every year in the United States. In the 2018 to 2019 season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which track annual flu statistics, estimated that there were more than 16.5 million medical visits and around 34,200 deaths. That’s a huge burden from one disease on our medical systems.
Even with knowing some of the risks that come around with certain days and seasons, you just never know what a day will bring. The best health care professionals can adapt themselves to any situation, whether it’s a busy day of rushing from one emergency to the next or a slow one. For supervisors in charge of staffing, knowing what might be busy can help guide scheduling to make sure both staff and patients are well taken care of.