Healthcare Superstitions

Break in clouds

A superstition is the supernatural belief that one occurrence might be related to a different occurrence, even if there is no proof that the two things are related at all. If you’re the superstitious type, today –Friday the 13th – might be a daunting day for you because of the date’s unofficial association with “unlucky” occurrences. On the bright side, May 13 is the only Friday the 13th in the 2016 calendar year. Regardless of whether you are superstitious or not, we won’t see another one until January 13, 2017!

According to Dr. Arlo Weltge, emergency medicine physician with the Memorial Hermann Red Duke Trauma Institute and clinical professor of emergency medicine with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, working in the healthcare industry can’t help but make you a little superstitious.

“I wouldn’t have considered myself superstitious until I went to work in the Emergency Center,” said Dr. Weltge. “Now having been there a while, it makes me a lot more cautious. I knock on wood after someone mentions that it’s a slow day, and I don’t ever use the ‘Q’ word when on shift.”

According to Dr. Weltge, here are a few things to watch for this Friday the 13th:

The “Q” Word

The “Q” word is quiet. One of the most common superstitions in nursing is the use of the word “quiet.” If someone says something along the lines of, “Wow, it’s really quiet today,” you can expect that things are about to get crazy. Whether patients begin to ring their call bells, or the emergency room fills up with patients, if you think it’s quiet, it’s probably about to be the opposite.

The Full Moon

The most common superstition regarding the full moon is that it brings out madness. Along with the craziness evoked from a full moon comes an increase in trauma. A full moon on a Friday the 13th is viewed as the ultimate sign of bad luck. Fortunately for us, the last full moon on a Friday the 13th was in the year 2000, and there isn’t supposed to be another one until 2049.

“There has actually been research done that proves there is no sufficient link between crazy behavior and a full moon,” Dr. Weltge said. “But sometimes I can’t help but notice that some of our really busy nights are when a full moon is shining bright. I know in the back of my mind that there’s no connection, but I’m still a little superstitious about it.”

Unusual Cases Happen in Threes

Another common superstition is that certain things in the emergency room always occur in threes. If it is a busy night, you can likely expect two more busy nights to follow.

“Every once in a while there will be a case that comes in that is unusual or uncommon,” said Dr. Weltge. “It’s when I notice those cases that I tend to see them more often. It seems like it usually happens three times in the same shift. Perhaps it’s just that I am more aware of it at the time, but I can’t help but be a little skeptical about it.”

Other Superstitions

The list of healthcare superstitions goes on and on. Some nurses claim that certain rooms are unlucky, despite room assignments being completely random. If you bring work to do in your downtime, you can guarantee that you won’t have any time to work on it. If there is a recurring patient that a nurse hasn’t seen in a while, mentioning them by name ensures that they will show up.

Of course not all superstitions are bad. We cross our fingers for good luck, and lucky charms can boost our confidence in a high-pressure situation. Science says these connections are all in our heads, but it’s truly up to you to decide how superstitious you really are.


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Tashika Varma