The Slowdown: How to Maximize Your Downtime at Work

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In my work as a clinical assistant, there are times during my twelve hour shift where I cannot sit down due to the amount of work to be done, bustling from patient to patient in an effort to ensure everything gets done well and in a timely manner. But when patients are discharged and the unit activity slows to a crawl, the temptation to take out my phone and browse the Internet to kill time is strong, especially when other colleagues are also taking advantage of downtime to catch up on holiday shopping. But these slow times at work provide co-op students with several unique opportunities and should not be wasted. Here are my top tips to make downtime work to your advantage!

1.       Ask Questions!

In a field like nursing, knowledge is passed down in a generational way, with older nurses often eager to tell younger nurses about their experiences. I’ve found that waiting to ask questions about particular patient diagnoses until the unit is quiet allows for the nurse to give a more in-depth answer. This signals to them that you are interested in their opinions and are receptive to teaching, which could lead to greater opportunities for learning later. For example, a patient was admitted recently with a complicated diagnosis. The unit was bustling, so instead of asking the nurse about the situation while she was busy, I waited until a slower period. She eagerly explained the disease itself and also its treatment. Then, later on, she remembered my interest and asked if I wanted to watch a procedure being done on that patient. Now, she often invites me into the room to watch her work and will explain various aspects of her care to me. I have learned so much that I never would have known if I hadn’t used my downtime to ask questions.

2.       Offer Help!

There is nothing worse than seeing a colleague who has finished his or her work for the day sitting idly at the nurses’ station as you rush by, trying to keep your head above water. If everyone else is busy and you are not, offer your help! Even simple tasks like gathering supplies for a procedure or assisting with a complicated patient can ease the workload of your coworkers- and believe me, they’ll remember it! Helping your colleagues might seem like a no-brainer, but I have seen so many students answer calls for help with “But that’s not what I do” or simply sighing theatrically before giving aid. Don’t let your coworkers get to the point where they are interrupting your Facebook session to ask for your help- just offer it, no strings attached. They’ll be grateful and remember you as a dependable, motivated colleague.

3.       Do Something Extra!

When I first started my current job, I never thought I would end up being my pediatric unit’s resident arts and crafts provider. But early in the fall, my charge nurse asked if anyone wanted to decorate the unit for back to school season. None of the nurses enjoyed decorating and dreaded the task. Since I wasn’t busy, I volunteered for the task, and now I am responsible for adding cute holiday touches to our various decorations. There are owls dressed as elves next to colorful stockings and mittens with names of all our nurses on them. I’ll admit it, I might have gone overboard with the crafting! But now everyone on my unit knows me as the “cute crafts” girl, and visitors are always commenting on the new touches that are added every few weeks. Going above and beyond will always get you noticed, not to mention help you build relationships!

4.       Research, Research, Research!

One of my necessary items at work is paper and a pen for writing down illnesses, procedures, or equipment that I’ve never encountered. Then, during slow periods, I can search each one on Google, jotting down interesting facts or why a certain procedure might be done versus another. I also subscribe to several nursing and medical newsletters, and use the time to catch up on reading them. The information you gather from researching your field will serve you well in the workplace, making you informed and a valued team member. But it will also help you in classes by reinforcing what you are learning, and even adding context to the concepts outlined in class.

Overall, your downtime is a learning experience that should be valued. It is easy to look like a team player when everything is busy, but when things are slow it becomes painfully obvious when someone isn’t contributing their fair share. Raise your own personal bar, and you’ll find that you will get much more satisfaction out of your work! 

Julia Thompson is a second year Nursing major in the Bouve College of Health Sciences. She works as a nursing assistant at South Shore Hospital and is currently on her first co-op at Boston Children’s Hospital. She is the secretary of the Northeastern University Student Nurses’ Association and is also involved with Bouve Fellows. Feel free to contact her at with any questions. You can follow her on LinkedIn ( and Twitter (

Boston is My International Experience!

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Hello! I’m Josie Aitken-Sheridan, a third year Business Management student from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. I have lived in Glasgow my entire life up until June of this year and am proud to call Glasgow my home!

My Business Management degree allows me to take an industrial placement for one year, which prompted me to apply to come and work for Northeastern University. My position is within the Employer Relations department, as well as working closely alongside staff from Career Development.

This role has been extremely insightful and worthwhile so far and has allowed me to grow the skills that I already gained back home in Scotland from previous jobs. Since I am classed as a student for the duration of my time here, I am also entitled to use the services that Career Development offer to expand on my own personal development.

All in all, it’s a wonderful place to work in. The reason I like it so much is because I get to work alongside hard working and supportive staff members who embody the values of Northeastern and truly have each and every student and employer’s interests at heart. In my previous jobs, I never experienced a good work environment and often felt that my efforts were never really appreciated. This job is completely different. I can say confidently that I feel like a valued member of this department and that I am the happiest I have ever seen myself in a full-time job. Result!
My time here in Boston is so valuable to me because it is allowing me to stand out from other students who don’t have experience working in another country. I have adapted well to Boston culture and society, which I hope that in the future will present more job opportunities for me. I also have a passion for traveling, so the prospect of working in different countries excites me!

More importantly, I have found that I have learned more about myself being in Boston than I ever did when I was back home. I believe that when you don’t have the support from your family and friends that you are used to having, you rely on yourself more than you thought possible. Your independence is really put to the test when you are alone with day-to-day life. My values have played a big part in how I have worked and lived in Boston, thus making it more important for myself to reflect on what I have learned whilst being away and putting it to good use when I eventually return to Scotland.

One piece of advice I would give to students who have been away from home for a long period of time is not to worry! Your family will always be there for you no matter what. If you work hard during your time here at Northeastern, the appreciation and respect from your family is the greatest reward you can get.

Lastly, traveling has probably been the most enjoyable part of my time here in the United States. So far I have managed to travel to Portland (in Maine, not Oregon), New York City, Connecticut, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Each state that I have visited has been completely different to the last, making each experience more memorable. I believe that any student who is studying at Northeastern must make time to travel outside of Massachusetts! Boston is an amazing city but there is so much to see in this country, so don’t limit yourself only to one place. Like I said before, I love to travel! It has had a great impact on my life and has made me more open to new things. Boston has definitely without a doubt strengthened my appreciation for travel and the joys that it can bring!          


 (Pictures from Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington DC)

Living in Boston has been an incredible experience thus far. I find it to be a surprisingly welcoming and friendly city. There is so much to do and appreciate in Boston and I am proud that I am able to call this city my temporary home.

Please reach out to me if you have any questions about my time here! I would love to hear more stories from other students.Thank you for reading!

Josie Aitken-Sheridan, Employer Relations Coordinator Intern
BA (Hons) Business Management – 2018, LinkedIn: Josie Aitken-Sheridan
Instagram : josieisabella_

A Global Experience in Husky Territory!

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About a year ago I was sitting in a lecture theater back in Scotland learning about industrial placement (also known as Co-op) at Northeastern University. Today I have to admit that it is not what I expected, but so much more! And I realize that I need to take advantage of all the opportunities that present themselves.

My international co-op (internship) at Northeastern is definitely a life learning experience. The past six months have been a tremendous professional growth opportunity. I came to that realization this past week as I have been participating in and helping with the interviews for next year’s incoming Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) intern traveling to Boston. It was at that point that I realized how much I grew as a professional, I recognize how much I have changed and how much this experience is shaping my future – and how much it will impact me, for the rest of my professional career.

Since the beginning of my internship I have been able to build stronger communication skills both verbal and non-verbal, to achieve this I have been assisting and presenting to different student bodies, information sessions, facilitated employers call and visit on campus. I have also been corresponding with different employers all around the globe on almost a day to day basis. The skills were further improved through the management of large scale event – 400 students attending and participating- and with the administration of the front desk of the Career Services department, a highly visible position with a lot of traffic requiring vigilance and multitasking. This part of my role was challenging at first as I wasn’t familiar nor had experience in business administration.

My work at Northeastern University over the past couple of months gave me a growth opportunity that I never expected to happen as no previous employment gave the opportunity to expand my understanding and abilities to deeply explore a business environment and its opportunities on a global scale as well as getting a deep and comprehensive knowledge of higher education in the USA. This will further help me to shape who I am as a professional as I will have experiences in different working culture. The American working culture is really different than any European working culture I have previously experienced. This hierarchical system made me realize the opportunities of growth that are available in the USA and therefore making think about different opportunities that coming back to the USA after graduation might offer me.

Overall, my experience has been valuable and challenging, as I am pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.  You can read my weekly or monthly Vlog about my internship; as it will definitely shape my professional future.

Alexandra Wilcock, is a third year Business Management Student from Glasgow Caledonian University. Originally from France,she decided after high school to move to Glasgow to pursue her  dreams. After two years of theory and classroom learning, she was ready to experience the real world and get involved in a yearlong professional engagement.