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By Danny Pettry, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, CTRS-BHS, and Lifetime Member of ATRA

Part 1: A Case for Breaks

Washington State Senator Opposed Bill for Nurse Breaks

Washington State Senator Maureen Walsh opposed Washington State House Bill 1155 (2019-20) that would provide nurses with uninterrupted breaks for mealtimes.

Walsh argued, “Nurses probably do get breaks. They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

Nurses are Hardworking

Nurses do important work. It’s difficult.

The Job Network identified 22 reasons why bring a nurse is really hard.

Some of the reasons include:

  • Making life and death decisions
  • Transferred (moved) to another unit without any advance notice
  • Mentally draining to be aware of thousands of drugs and counteractions and allergies
  • They’re often on their feet for full shifts
  • Task on their own physical health.

Of course there are many more reasons that make nursing hard work.


Breaks are Important

It is impossible to stay at your peak mental performance for a long period of time.

We, in Recreational Therapy, understand the rejuvenating and restoring power of rest, relaxation, and breaks.

It’s cliché: all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl.

And we don’t want a nurse (or any health care professional who is dull. We want our nurse to be sharp, mentally alert, and on her best game (no pun intended).

Science Supports Breaks

Health care is expensive and evidenced-based treatments are highly valued.

Research indicates that taking breaks is effective for patient outcomes.

Daniel Pink, an expert on the topic, argues that “lunch” is the most important meal of the day, in his (2018) best-selling book, When: the scientific secrets of perfect timing

Professionals, like nurses do not stay at their peak performance all day.

Pink (2018) points out that any medical errors take place in the afternoons. Pink referred to evening services as “the Hospital of Doom.” Mistakes increase.

Breaks aren’t just important for nurses, but physicians and other professionals as well. Medical errors increase at hospitals in the evenings.

The solution: Breaks.

Here is a quick video to provide you with a summary of Pink’s book:

Breaks aren’t about being lazy. They are not a nicety to nurses (or other professionals)

Breaks are a necessity. It saves lives.

Pink points out different types of breaks:

  • like moving/ exercise breaks when you’ve been sitting for too long
  • nature break
  • or even a social break.

Breaks should allow for autonomy and detachment.

Part 2: Implications for Recreational Therapists

What if someone argued against breaks for recreational therapists, claiming, “They [Recreational Therapists] probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day?”

Based on my experiences being a recreational therapist and meeting thousands of recreational therapists over the last two decades, I have heard demeaning comments about recreational therapists. Rec Therapist have been called the “fun and games staff,” or “the agency playboy,” and deemed nicknames as not part of a professional staff. I’ve heard rec therapists referred to as “the break relief staff.” The nurses and other staff take their breaks when the rec therapist shows up.

Rec Therapy is More than Fun and Games

As an advocate for recreational therapist, it isn’t about “the activity.” The activity (an intervention) is a method of getting a person from A to B. It is a process of improving some type of functional ability in one of these domains: social, physical, cognitive, emotional, or overall independence. Recreational therapists aren’t just playing games. They are providing treatment.

Work Related Stressors for Recreational Therapists and Allied Professionals

Recreational therapists are faced with several demanding stressors (like our allied professional nurses).

Patient safety is always a priority. Recreational therapists must closely supervise patients with suicidal ideations or self-injurious behaviors in behavioral health settings. Recreational therapist has used aquatics, adventure courses, or horses in the treatment process. These activities can be dangerous alone. There is risk of drowning, falling off obstacles or horses. The risks are heightened for recreational therapists because they are providing services for people with illnesses and disabling conditions.

Recreational therapists facilitate social activities as well. These activities can be dangerous too. A recreational therapist must make sure the patient with diabetic needs doesn’t get sugar and end up in a diabetic coma. Another patient has a severe peanut allergy. Another patient has swallowing issues and isn’t able to have solid foods.  Failure to closely supervise and monitor activities could result in serious  harm. Ethically: recreational therapists avoid causing harm while striving to bring abuot the best outcomes.


Being a recreational therapist might sound like fun and games. However, there are many stressors for working in any human services profession. This isn’t limited to nurses and recreational therapists.

Many human service providers (including recreational therapists) have suffered from burnout and compassion fatigue.

It is vital that professionals have self-care (including breaks) so they can be at the top of their game, to provide the best services possible for that patients and consumers in their care.

Action Step:

Read Daniel Pink’s (2018) book: When: the scientific secrets of perfect timing to learn more about the importance of breaks.

Click here to get the book on Amazon