My Little Black Nurse Practitioner Work Survival Kit

I was getting ready for work the other evening when my husband, always concerned about drowsy driving, inquired as to the number of caffeinated beverages I had on hand in my workbag. I let him know that with a Coke fountain on-site and a coffee pot (filled with brew of questionable quality but substantial caffeine content) constantly simmering in the ER break room, I would be adequately alert to make it through the night shift. Then, I started thinking – even without these resources at work I had my own stash of caffeine on hand.

I have to say, I have pretty much perfected the preparedness for work as a nurse practitioner process over the past seven years. No, I’m not talking about clinical resources here, but those items I need to make it through the day performing at my best. As nurse practitioners, our days can be long and exhausting. Neglecting to take care of ourselves can leave us without the stamina we need to work on our feet and interact pleasantly with patients not to mention have a little bit of energy left for life at home after our shift. Enter my little black nurse practitioner survival kit.

The bag I tote with me to work in the emergency department contains primarily food. Seriously. A 12-hour shift may span the course of three meals. And, I’m a lunch packer. Besides my excessive amount of chow for the day, my tote also contains a black cosmetics bag filled with all the essentials I have found convenient to have on hand at work. Here’s what I recommend NPs have on hand to keep going during a busy shift.

Instant Coffee

Starbucks makes instant coffee packets that really aren’t too shabby (try the instant Pumpkin Spiced Latte). All you need is hot water and ‘bam!’ a cup of Joe is yours to be had. Whether you could use an afternoon pick-me-up or you’re a perpetual night-shifter, having caffeine on hand is a must. These packets are quite small making for easy carting back and forth or storing in your desk or locker.

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Hand Cream

It’s that time of year again. Yes, the season of hand chap is upon us. If you’re prone to cracked hands, preventative application of hand cream (this Almond one is awesome) is a must. As nurse practitioners we are particularly prone to the cracked hand problem as a result of constant glove use and hand washings. Don’t let winter get the best of your digits.

Ponytail Holder

Have you ever gone into a patient’s room to suture a wound or I&D an abscess only to realize your hair is totally in the way. As one who has been on the receiving end of butt-abscess pus in my mane, I keep my little black nurse practitioner survival kit stocked with ponytail holders. Keep plenty on hand (these leave little if no ponytail line and are substantial enough to locate among purse clutter). If your ‘do demands, don’t forget bobby pins, too.


You know the onion slices stacked on your sandwich at lunch? Yeah, so do your patients. When a case of stinky breath creeps up unanticipated, covering it up with some minty freshness is a must.

Nail File

I’m a nail biter, which it kind of gross. The habit leaps to the ‘totally gross’ level when you consider my work environment. Nibbling on a hangnail after gingerly carrying a urine specimen (or worse!) is outright disgusting. Having a nail file on hand helps fix chips without the need to even out nails with your teeth. Ick!


For various reasons, I often find having a set of headphones on hand (noise cancelling options are pricey but totally worth the investment) at the hospital to be convenient. When I’m busy completing patient charts, wearing headphones gives the signal ‘only ask if it’s important, please’ and postpones the tendency of coworkers to engage in social chatting with me until my work is done. Employer mandated online tutorials also seem to make a frequent appearance in my inbox and are best completed with headphones on hand as to not disturb other providers with the sounds of CPR instruction.

Cell Phone Charger

I find keeping my usual cell phone charger in my work bag rather annoying as the cord is constantly getting tangled. So, I use a device like this. The ultra thin charger fits easily into a cosmetic bag and can charge your cell up to ten times – perfect when you find yourself in a pinch mid-shift.

Toothbrush, Toothpaste and Floss

Okay, okay, call me crazy but I have a mini toothbrush, toothpaste and floss in my work bag. You never know when on-the-job snacking is going to get the best of you. 12 hours is a long time to go with a popcorn kernel stuck in your teeth. Oh yeah, and I pack a mini deodorant, too. No sense in having fantastic breath if your pits stink (which can totally happen after running around the hospital floor in clogs all day).

Ten Bucks

It’s never a bad idea to have a little cash on hand. Whether you find yourself driving to work, gas light blinking and credit card declined at the tank or with a lunch forgotten at home on the kitchen table, keeping a few dollars in your work tote will come in handy when you least expect it.

A Protein/Energy Bar

Working the night shift, I don’t have the luxury of the hospital cafeteria to fall back on in case of unanticipated mid-shift hunger or a forgotten lunch. So, I keep some sort of protein bar on hand just in case. Nothing ruins a workday like a case of the hangry’s. My go-to faves? Cliff bars are a top pick as they don’t have the ‘I’m trying to bulk up’ taste of other energy bars but leave me feeling full.

Tylenol or Motrin

Headaches can hit like a ton of bricks. Whether you’ve neglected to monitor your water intake and are experiencing a bit of dehydration or are just plain stressed, headaches happen to the busy nurse practitioner. Be prepared to ward off the inconvenience at its onset to prevent a full-on migraine. Packing just one tiny Tylenol tablet may be enough to salvage your workday (single dose pouches save space).

Keeping a supply of such essentials may seem obvious, but somehow I often find myself handing out ponytail holders to fellow nurse practitioners in need. So, unprepared NPs – I suggest you grab yourself a little black cosmetic bag and start prepping for the unexpected workday inconvenience.

What’s in your nurse practitioner workday survival kit?


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