Families gathered around bounties of lovingly prepared food. Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles sharing stories from their youth, laughing and remembering about days gone by.

Football and falling leaves as temperatures drop and the mindfulness of being thankful for all the blessings in our lives. This is what the holidays are all about.

But for many nurses and healthcare providers, their family gathering is around paper plates and potluck bonanzas in the break rooms of hospital and care facilities around the country. Although Thanksgiving and Christmas are days off for most, they are just more shifts for nurses. Or are they?

Working the holidays is just part of the game. When you work in healthcare, you have to accept that people do not stop getting sick on holidays — they will still need our care.

With this acceptance, working the holidays becomes just a little more palatable, but a good potluck makes it even better.

One thing I have learned from working many holidays is that they are similar to the holidays shared at home. The work team is really a work family — with all the dysfunction and fun that comes with it.

The holidays bring the same laughs and good times in the break room as they do around the family table. It is a time of coming together, eating wonderfully made food and sharing fun stories of caring for patients. (And if there is one thing nurses can do well, is a holiday potluck throw down.) It is a time of being thankful for our own health as we nurse those in our care back to their own better health.

It is never enjoyable being away from our own families at the holidays, but that makes us more sensitive to the patients and families who will be spending their holiday in the hospital, too.

We can empathize with them — we are both not where we may want to be, but we are where we need to be at the moment and will make the best of the situation. It is that collective understanding that binds us as humans and is often forgotten in our daily routine of caring.

So, this holiday season, let us be extra thankful for our peers who are caring for patients and families so we can share the laughs and joy with our own families.