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Young Ophthalmologists
Mistletoe, Potlucks and Gas Cards: How YOs Celebrate the Holidays at Work

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If Frank Capra made It’s a Wonderful Life in this century, and set scenes in the office of an ophthalmologist, would he use the same decorations, film the same type of celebrations? It’s hard to say. In a world where physicians work in varied settings, communities and practices, “the holidays” can mean everything from Hanukkah to Halloween to Valentine’s Day. And observance of them can range from decorations or free turkeys to extra time off.

For physicians in the military, like incoming YO Committee Chairman Andrew Doan, MD, PhD, celebration is bounded by “very strict regulations.” Halloween costumes are out, for example. “We can give out candy, and that’s about it,” Dr. Doan said. And when it comes to holidays like Hanukkah or Christmas, Dr. Doan says, “We try to do non-religious specific decorations like holly, red bows, maybe some tasteful lighting.”

Environmental disruption and the backgrounds of patients and staff can also be a factor in things like decorations. Erin Shriver, MD, a YO who is on the faculty of an academic eye hospital in Florida, says office decorations often combine the colors of Christmas and Hanukkah. “There were a couple more decorations aimed more at Christmas in the nurses’ station once,” she said, “and there was a little discussion about whether or not that was appropriate, because so many of our patients don’t celebrate Christmas.” Shriver said the audible nature of one decoration — a singing Santa Claus — was also an issue.

The age of patients can be a challenge as well, as some costumes or decorations could frighten younger patients. At the same time, though, the costumes of patients can make a natural topic for exam-room conversation around that time of the year. One YO who specializes in pediatric ophthalmology says she often asks patients who or what they’ll be going as for Halloween.

Incoming YO Info Editor Aaron Miller, MD, recommends a different topic of holiday conversation: the plan for end-of-year gift-giving to staff. “If you’re a member of a large group or multiple physicians, it’s important to always keep in mind what you may feel is appropriate, another physician or partner in your group may not,” he says. A pediatric ophthalmologist who’s part of a large private practice in Houston, Dr. Miller recommends “discussing this among your other physician partners and also trying to set a price limit.” In his practice, they do a year-end bonus.

Erin Holloman, MD, a YO who works in a two-physician practice in Oklahoma City, says her practice does something similar, though gas cards were recently included as well. “We’ve actually done that throughout the year — when we’re trying to give them a little morale booster or they’ve been working extra hard and we know it,” she said. “We’ve given a lot of gas cards.”

Dr. Doan also noted the connection between holiday observances and morale. Festivities, like his practice’s annual potluck and holiday gift exchange, even with its “modest” $10 limit, “builds a lot of collegiality,” he said. “It builds morale — morale is very important. If people are happy, they are more productive, they care about their work place, they feel important. These are very critical things that you need to do to show appreciation for each other, and it just provides a more pleasant work environment for everyone. Plus, I like the gifts!”

Dr. Shriver said one of her favorite employer gifts is the turkeys her hospital provided the staff for Thanksgiving. “That was really nice. Every employee got a coupon for one turkey. And if you didn’t use it, I think it went to a non-profit organization — the Salvation Army or something.”

Dr. Shriver added that it’s not unusual for her practice to mark several holidays throughout the year, at least in the form of decorations. “You know, we’re in Florida,” she said, “ so the weather’s the same all the time. It’s kind of nice to have a little bit of decorations to show the changing of the seasons, because otherwise it’s sunny and beautiful most every day. It helps to mark the transition throughout the year.”

Traditions can change as well. Dr. Shriver noted that her hospital no longer holds the Halloween costume contest it used to, while Dr. Holloman said her small practice has “graduated out of the office Christmas party.” Given their small staff — five full-time employees and two physician owners — and the length of time two of the women have worked there (20 years in one case, nearly 30 in another), the group’s working relationships have evolved over time. End-of-year festivities might not be that big, but “one of the ladies bakes a birthday cake for everybody’s birthday.” And Dr. Holloman and her partner close the office for the week between Christmas and New Year’s — providing a week of paid time off, in addition to the staff’s regular vacation. “I hope they think that that’s a nice benefit to working at our office,” she says. “I think they do.”

I’m sure Frank Capra would agree.

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About the author: Christi A. Foist is the managing editor for YO Info and the Web and Member Communications Editor for the Academy. Her favorite holiday food traditions are brewing apple cider and baking gingerbread.