In the patient care arena, nurses and unlicensed personnel strive to provide optimum patient care. However, this becomes more difficult when their work load is increased. In a concerted effort to satisfy budget constraints, the ratio of nurses to patients is regulated.
Unfortunately, when short staffing in nursing occurs, both licensed and unlicensed personnel on duty need to have a series of coping mechanisms in place. Such strategies have resulted in improved patient outcomes and improved job satisfaction for health care professionals. The purpose of this article is to offer staff nurses and administrators coping strategies for those unfortunate situations when they are faced with short staffing. These evidence-based strategies intend to improve patient care and enhance overall job satisfaction as reported by staff.
Linda Laskowski-Jones, RN, APRN, CCRN, CED, MS, and Kara Toulson, RN, CEN, BSN, (Linda Laskowski-Jones & and Kara Touslon, 2007, vol. 37 #10) have worked in collaboration to offer several strategies for short staffing such as follows:
In a similar article, Christina Orlovsky (Orlovsky, 2005) encourages Nurse managers to be an ally for their staff nurses. Orlovsky proposes that nurse managers could call in other staff and offer them incentives to come in to help. Or they could inform the hospital’s nursing administration and network appropriately. In many cases, staffing agencies can be used to recruit personnel. However, if short staffing situations are a pattern, it is the nurse managers’ duty to examine the cause and to propose solutions for repair. In the wake of short staffing, the house staffing officer should be notified. In her article, Orlovsky proposes,"… that managers should notify administration as soon as they identify the need for staff, or they could call in off-duty staff and offer them incentives to come in to work. When possible, nurse managers could assist with patient-care on their unit."
In a related article, titled “Hospital Nurse Staffing and Quality of Care,” Mark Stanton encourages nurses to maintain a positive attitude. Patients and their families can sense when a nurse is frustrated or overworked, and being positive equates to improved patient satisfaction and outcomes. Similarly, he suggests that nurses take good care of themselves and ask for what they need. Much too often, nurses feel that they have to carry the entire work load on their shoulders, and this can lead to dissatisfaction and compromised patient care. However, simply by delegating or asking for what they need, the situation can be resolved. Nurses need to take care of themselves; this means that taking breaks for meals is important and getting the proper amount of rest is crucial. Hunger and fatigue can negatively affect performance and attitude.
Short staffing is one of the perils of any profession but it can be a more severe problem in nursing. Having the right number of staff to care for the number and the severity of patients on the unit, without exceeding the proposed budget, is difficult to achieve. And, its success depends on understanding and practice. In this article, it was the author’s intention to provide her nursing colleagues with a variety of evidence-based strategies to cope with short-staffing without compromising the care of her patients.