Is it appropriate to give a holiday gift to a nurse?
December 13, 2012 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Should my father give Christmas gifts to my mother's nurses?

My mother is on a ventilator in the late stages of a terminal illness, and cannot communicate. She lives at home and has 24-hour a day nursing care. The nurses come from a staffing agency, but my understanding is that there is a fairly regular group of nurses who care for my mother. My father has asked my opinion as to whether or not giving a small Christmas gift to the nurses is appropriate. He says, "One side of me says that they are professionals, and while you may tip the paperboy, you don’t tip your doctor or lawyer. Another side of me says that they are providing a personalized service over time, and that some professionals, like schoolteachers, do get small Christmas gifts." My gut says that a small gift would be thoughtful and certainly not inappropriate. I suggested a $10-$15 Target gift card. Do you agree? And if you agree that a gift is appropriate, any other suggestions for gifts? I will be sending my dad a link to this question.
posted by amro to Society & Culture (16 answers total)
Check to see if they're allowed to accept gifts in the first place, and what form, before getting anything at all. They may, for instance, be allowed to accept something with no monetary value (i.e. cookies) but banned from accepting gift certificates or anything else that is cash-equivalent.

At the very least, you ought to get them cards.
posted by griphus at 8:22 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's always nice to get little tokens of appreciation for people who do a good job.

I worked in a doctor's office for a time and patients got me several gifts. My mother, a nurse, told me it her rule was that it is appropriate to accept small gifts from patients and their families, but not cash.
posted by something something at 8:31 AM on December 13, 2012

I am so sorry you are all going through this.

Some people put together a gift basket/bag of candy, cookies, fruits, nuts etc. to leave at the nursing station. I have done this. I felt like there is something icky anyway about big piles of communal food in the workplace unless it is individually wrapped. And this is a hospital. So I put in a lot of small packages of stuff, like for example this, so people could even take one or two away with them.
posted by BibiRose at 8:32 AM on December 13, 2012

Yes, ask the staffing agency.
Not only "is it appropriate?" but also "are there rules about cash vs item?" and "are there rules about the value of the item?".
posted by aimedwander at 8:35 AM on December 13, 2012

I'm sorry for that your family is going through this time.

We got my grandparents' caregivers small gifts because they really developed a relationship with my grandparents. It wasn't entirely an impersonal or clinical relationship.

I think small gifts, like a collection of teas/cocoas or nice chocolates or cookies would be really thoughtful. I'd inquire further about anything with a cash value.
posted by mamabear at 8:40 AM on December 13, 2012

Asking about the rules is good.

I will say that my late great aunt had a wonderful, selfless carer for the last year of her life - a genuinely nice woman who really brought her whole self to the task. We were all incredibly thankful that my great aunt received good, kind care and that we could trust the carer to do a good job and never had to worry about my great aunt being neglected or unsafe. I know the carer got a Christmas present (which was probably cash) and I know we also gave her something pretty substantial cash-wise after my great aunt's death.

Good care is so important and so hard to give, and so many of those women aren't paid near what they are worth. They are doing this incredibly intimate, important service that requires skill and gentleness. I also think that even for a professional person, if they are emotionally open it can be very wrenching work to see someone go.

So I would absolutely advocate for a gift. The agency may have rules, but otherwise if it's a smaller amount a Target card seems about right - but if it were me I might aim for $50 cash in a nice card, if that is affordable. (Obviously, don't bankrupt yourself.)
posted by Frowner at 8:43 AM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think giving gifts is a lovely, generous gesture, during a trying time.

It's natural to do this and as long as it's within the guidelines of the agency.

Target gift cards ROCK!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:47 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

On our major festival last month, I happened to have a dental appointment that week so just took along a bag of festive munchies for the breakroom. They were thrilled! Perhaps you can take something that everyone can share? (if the rules don't allow gifts)
posted by infini at 9:21 AM on December 13, 2012

I had a question on an exam about this: A long time patient, a retired jeweler, thanks you for your years of service and gives you a gold pocket watch. What should you do?

The scored answer was: Accept the watch, as refusing it would likely damage your relationship with the patient. The rationale was that a physician should accept gifts that are within the means of the patient as long as they do not expect special treatment in return. So that's one answer.

My own thoughts are in line with Frowner. These people are enormously important to the care and support of your family, and I think it would be completely appropriate to give them small gifts. If they are allowed to accept cash, I think $50 - $100 would be much appreciated (assuming that there aren't so many nurses that this would be a financial hardship). If they can't accept cash, then cookies, nice chocolate, or some other delicious treat would be very nice. If there's something even more personal - a cute shirt for their child for example, that would also be very nice.

It sounds like your family is handeling a difficult situation with love and grace. Whatever you choose, I'm sure the caretakers already appreciate the care that you've clearly shown for them.
posted by DaveZ at 9:23 AM on December 13, 2012

I'm not a nurse, but I am an allied health professional in the UK. My employer has a very strict policy about what we can accept and what we can't. Gift cards wouldn't be allowed. A box to chocolates to be shared between the department would be. A personal box of chocolates wouldn't be, as I understand it. We have to register all gifts we receive, however small.

I'm sure they've love small gifts of christmassy goodies. It's not inappropriate to want to thank people who are doing a good job, but be aware they may be limited in what they can accept.
posted by kadia_a at 9:31 AM on December 13, 2012

It's likely not expected but would be a kind and thoughtful thing to do for people who are working on this very intimate level with your mother on an ongoing basis. Home care nurses work very hard, are often paid less than you might expect, and frequently develop close relationships with families.

As a doctor I get small presents from my longstanding patients from time to time like souvenirs from a trip or candy and I am always really touched to get them, especially when they come with a card. The ones that are not consumable or meant for my child are on display in my office. Most medical centers will allow their employees to accept "token" gifts, where "token" is generally undefined but considered to be in the $10-20 range. I think if your father reconceptualizes this from "holiday tip" to "gesture of sincere appreciation and thanks" it will seem less like giving money to the paperboy.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:58 AM on December 13, 2012

Hospitals usually have very strict policies about what staff can and can't accept as gifts. Your best bet will be to bring food or a card (or cards). If you *do* bring food, make sure it's purchased (versus home-made), as people can have a variety of food allergies. My opinion is that basically everyone loves chocolate.

PS - Don't forget the night shift. Anything brought in during the day will usually be gone by the time the night people come in. Nurses usually work 12 hour shifts at 7-7 or 8-8.
posted by NYC-BB at 10:16 AM on December 13, 2012

Thank you for the answers so far. I just want to reiterate that my mother is at home and the nurses come to my parents' home to work. A gift for "the department" or "the nursing station" doesn't really make sense in this situation.
posted by amro at 10:40 AM on December 13, 2012

I guess it depends on how much your dad wants to spend. But I'd go with gift card + holiday thing - like a panetone (delicious!!!) since they might not all be Christian, or a winter candle since they might have food allergies.

So sorry you are going through all this. It's very kind and considerate of you to think about the nurses.
posted by Neekee at 11:57 AM on December 13, 2012

I'm a nurse. Usually in facilities (whether long term care or hospitals) there are usually strict rules about 1. either not being able to accept individual gifts at all or 2. having to contribute any monetary type gifts to a communal fund to be distributed amongst the staff. With home health they might not have as strict rules. I'd ask the aids/nurses taking care of your mom, don't call the company.
posted by syncope at 3:09 PM on December 13, 2012

The nursing agency I work for strictly forbids us to accept any gifts. Please check the policy of the agency the nurses work for. In college we were taught that nurses are never to accept gifts no matter who we work for.
posted by sybarite09 at 6:51 AM on December 14, 2012

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