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What do nurses REALLY do on their lunch breaks?

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We love asking our readers to regale us with outrageous true stories about the wacky and weird stuff they do at work. But a question about what they do during lunch was mostly met with (virtual) blank stares. Lunch break? What’s that?

The idea of actually being able to sit down for half an hour to eat seems like a fantastic luxury. Too often, that time is spent charting or doing other assigned work tasks without pay. If all the nurses in the United States got together on this issue and started reporting these violations to the Department of Labor, it might result in the largest set of industry-wide wage and hour claims in history!

That said, there are still healthcare settings where nurses can and do take their allotted lunch breaks. Besides eating or taking a power nap, here is what our readers said they or their coworkers do with that 30 minutes (names omitted to protect the fortunate few).

Work It Out
Physical activity is a favorite lunchtime pastime to help nurses stay awake and to relieve stress. Some go to the gym, others take a walk outside to get some fresh, less germ-laden air. Yoga and meditation are other activities that nurses do to bring a little balance into their hectic shifts. One nurse claims that he runs three or four miles on his lunch break. Another runs up and down the stairwells to feel the burn. They’ll both have to take a backseat in the physical stamina department to another nurse, who did chemo three days a week for six months on her lunch breaks!

Let Me Entertain You
Reading is another one of the most popular activities for nurses who have a few minutes to themselves. One even admits to reading Scrubs magazine at work (shameless plug). Others veg out watching streaming shows like Psych on their mobile devices or sharing the break room TV to catch a little Conan O’Brien. One nurse exercises her mind by playing Words With Friends on her smartphone. Knitting and cross-stitch made the list of entertainment activities for nurses who like to stay productive and creative during their downtime.

That’s Just Gross
There’s nothing like a little casual conversation during lunch to help you bond with coworkers. Patient symptoms always make for interesting discussion material. One nurse says the type of melena his patients have is a topic that comes up occasionally. Another nurse says she reads the poster about how to stage decubitus ulcers while she eats. The most disgusting tale of lunchtime habits comes from a nurse who claims a former coworker was caught licking a used fentanyl patch. (Note: If you have to look up the definitions for any of these words, you’re probably not a nurse and you REALLY don’t want to know.)

Far-Out Behavior
Would you and your coworkers go for gurney rides down the empty corridors on the night shift? How about catching a “quickie” in the call room à la Grey’s Anatomy? These things (according to a few of you) only happen on TV. However, activities that might raise an eyebrow include using that precious break time to get tested for breast cancer, have a civil wedding ceremony or get a tan at a nearby salon. Apparently, you can get a mammogram, get married or get melanoma—all in just 30 minutes.

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2 Responses to What do nurses REALLY do on their lunch breaks?

  1. skeeter RN

    One time I was trapped at the hospital because of a bad snow storm and the next shift of nurses couldnt get in. On our brief lunch break 3 of us “borrowed” the big trays from the cafeteria (the ones that go in the cart to bring meals to the floors) and went sledding down a small hill out back! It was a blast!

  2. joan@westgate

    As an occupational health nurse currently, in a business setting, I use my lunch break to read my Nook, call the hubby @ home (he’s retired), browse websites on my cell for clothes, read nursing magazine articles online, sometimes actually DO WORK in the 30 minute break if it has been an extremely busy morning, take a walk on the walking paths on our business complex (we have an excellent wellness program on site), meditate (!), do stretches, close my eyes and listen to music, & actually eat. I do enjoy going to the cafeteria to talk to the employees but these employees are my patients, so it’s not really like taking a break! I work all alone so it’s definitely a different environment than working, say, in a hospital surrounded by medical people. On the side, may I say that occupational health nursing, after > than 43 years in nursing, is one of the greatest gigs I have done in the nursing profession.

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