A superstition is a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation. Superstitions are persistent, even when confronted with evidence they are not true. In medical settings, superstitions can be inherited from those that are more experienced or acquired from experience. People who work in healthcare are humans of science. We believe in facts, logic, and evidence. So why are so many of us superstitious?
More often than not, I’ve had people tell me that working a shift during a full moon makes even the most experienced healthcare professionals nervous. In fact, there are countless stories from healthcare staff who recount some of the crazier stories of “normal” patients acting strangely, non-functioning equipment, or equipment disappearing altogether. Some emergency departments have a list of the full moon schedule on their bulletin boards! I have combed the internet couldn’t find any studies confirming the causation of a full moon affecting patient load or severity of trauma in emergency room visits. Even though research disproves lunar lunacy, more than 40% of health care professionals are still believers.
When is the last time you said the “Q” word on your shift? Many people believe that saying the word “Quiet” will jinx their shift and things will get hectic. This has been the subject of studies which showed no definitive effect on clinical workload. One study even encourages saying it in their conclusion, “as the sentiment in wishing a colleague a quiet shift is a good one.” I will let you decide whether you are willing to take the risk.
One superstition says that saying a frequent fliers name is believed to bring them to your doorstep (particularly if they are difficult.) This is what Dr. Michael Pitt, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota, calls the “Beetlejuice” phenomenon. “Like if you say [their name] three times, they’ll appear in the waiting room.”
One of the superstitions is there are “black cloud residents”. There always seems to be that one resident who has a “black cloud” that follows them and just makes their shifts terrible. The black cloud following them was real, however, it was not bad luck to blame. Those residents that slept less perceived they had worked harder, because they were working inefficiently or creating extra work for themselves.
After scouring medical papers for any shroud of evidence that any of these superstitions could be confirmed, I then went to look at message boards. Here are a few other superstitions I found that many healthcare providers participate or believe in:
- The rule of threes: death, babies, bad luck, accidents, code blues or any adverse outcome
- Some labor and delivery nurses won’t open instrumentation until the very last minute before a delivery to avoid a c-section
- Some nurses open a window or a door when a patient is ready to die to allow the spirit to exit the room
- Tie a knot in the sheet to prevent your patient from dying on your shift
- Certain rooms are haunted, cursed, or unlucky
- Always leave one triage bed unmade, because clean and made-up beds fill quickly.
- Friday the 13th has more trauma and traffic accidents as well as increased clinic caseload
So, we go back to the original question, “why are so many of us superstitious?” Before you write off anything I mentioned above as irrational or confirmation bias, there was one final study I investigated. According to this research article, participating in superstitious thoughts and routines to gain good luck (or avoid bad luck) does actually improve performance and boosts confidence. What are your superstitions? Share them with us in comments below.