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"It’s our job to be there for them": Thanking our holiday workers

For three straight years, Fatima Benrabah, a nursing supervisor at BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, has selflessly given up her holidays to care for patients at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital. She shares her reflections.
Fatima's photo working on the holiday
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Fatima Benrabah, BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services

It’s that time of year again! The holidays are quickly approaching and the festive spirit is in full swing. While some of us look forward to winding down with family and friends or taking part in seasonal traditions, countless others in health care forego time off to support patients and their families.

Fatima Benrabah at BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services is one such health care worker. She juggles her roles as the part-time site lead at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital​ (FPH), offering critical leadership and support on evenings and weekends, while also working as a patient care coordinator in a Fraser Health emergency department. This year will mark her third consecutive year working the Christmas Day shift at the hospital. Fatima shares what motivates her most about nursing, and reveals what it’s really like to be working over the holidays. 

What brought you to work at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital? 

"The hospital is very unique in the sense that we treat the most acute patients with psychiatric illnesses. I worked at North Fraser Pretrial Centre as a front line nurse. Many clients who were experiencing psychosis, hallucinations and were decompensating (or in crisis) would be transferred to FPH for psychiatric treatment to get better, and they did. When they returned to corrections after their treatment, we noticed improvements in their mental health. Seeing these changes sparked a lot of interest in me and I wanted to know more about what they did at the hospital. That’s what drew me to work here."

With the holidays coming up, what’s it really like working a shift at a hospital during this time?

"It’s a heightened day of emotion, for sure—be it Christmas Day or any holiday. Some are cheerful and joyful, and some are sad, somber and depressed, depending on what may have happened in the past. But I do find that along with a heightened state of emotion, there’s a sense of warmth, togetherness and unity, whether it’s at the emergency department or at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital. We’re all experiencing those emotions together and feel more appreciative of each other. There’s a shared understanding that we’re here to provide patient care and to help those who are in need." 

How do you feel about working over the holidays?

"The holidays are a special time of the year. For me personally, I went into nursing prepared to be available to work 365 days of the year. Whether it’s Christmas Day or Thanksgiving Day, medications still need to be administered, wounds still need to be cleansed and dressed, and those who need help, will still need help, year-round. Patient care doesn’t stop for a holiday break but, as a nurse, this is what I signed up to do. People can be unwell at any time, and it is our job to be there for them."

Do you have a favourite holiday memory at work?

"In previous years, the unit staff would prepare a delicious “Santa's Breakfast.” Everybody would bring in their special breakfast item or request, and we’d gather to enjoy the feast together. Patients would wake up to the sweet smell of pancakes, omelettes and French toast. Needless to say, it’s a very good feeling! Who could resist a breakfast like that?"

What will you be doing for yourself this season?

"I’m looking forward to spending quality time with my family. We have a few fun activities lined up like the Bright Nights train through Stanley Park. I have a five-year old niece who keeps me busy, and my sister is expecting her second soon, so I’ll be spending a lot of time helping her. I also have two cats—my little fur babies—who also keep me occupied."

What would you like others to remember?

"That we’re here for our patients, no matter the day or time. However, working through the holidays is still a sacrifice that many of us make. We're all people with obligations outside of work, but we do our best to support those who need our assistance. 

If I could ask for one thing, it’s that you thank your colleagues who work during the holidays. A 'thank you' or email of appreciation goes a long way!"

SOURCE: "It’s our job to be there for them": Thanking our holiday workers ( )
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