Coping with Short Staffing: 10 Useful Hacks that Can Save Your Practice

January 17, 2023

When the number of patients in your ward can not be efficiently catered for by the number of available healthcare workers (nurses and other necessary health practitioners), your practice might be experiencing short-staffing

A minimum number of nurses should be allocated to a certain number of patients by usual standards. However, the country's current state of nurse scarcity makes it challenging to meet this standard. 

Over the years, US hospitals have experienced a shortage of nurse practitioners. Working nurses dropped from 59% in 2000 to about 56% in 2004. And even today, the condition has only worsened due to the pandemic. 

As nurses are the largest group of healthcare professionals that provide direct care to patients daily, the quality of care you render to your patients directly relates to the overall efficiency of your nurses.

What are Short Staffed Shifts, and When Do They Occur?

When the number of in-patients (patients admitted into the wards)- exceeds a unit's maximum capacity per nurse as set by safety and quality standards, that shift is short-staffed. 

Unfortunately, As patients volume is always on the increase, short-staffed shifts happen to be the norm in nearly every department in every hospital. Even long-term care, stand-alone facilities, and clinics are not left out. 

Why Do Shifts Go Understaffed? 

Some of the top reasons why shifts go understaffed include;

  • The nurse burnout rate is reaching a peak level due to the epidemic; estimates show that about 17.5% of newly licensed nurses leave their first job within their first year, while about 30% leave within their first two years. 
  • Nationwide nurse shortage 
  • The few nurses left also have personal obligations, other clinical duties, and schedule rigidity, making it difficult for them to attain an adequate work-life balance. 

We can see a vicious circle around the profession. Fewer people are working in the nursing profession, leading to a shortage. This means that the few nurses have to work under stringent conditions. Eventually, the few nurses become fewer due to job dissatisfaction. 

What Are The Impact of Short Staffing On Your Practice? 

It can be problematic when you cannot adequately staff every shift in your practice. This condition threatens the safety of your patients and workers. 

As patients increase, so do nurses' workload increases within the department. This burdens your limited nurses with the impossible task of providing quality care to their patients. Here are some impacts of short-staffing within your organization. 

Medication Errors 

Giving close attention to detail is crucial for every nurse in any specialty. They are highly likely to miss important information like medication dosage and timing. Medication errors can sometimes lead to fatal complications in patient outcomes. 


Even with a proper patient-provider ratio, nursing can still be physically and emotionally draining. Not to talk of situations where nurses are understaffed. As the number of understaffed shifts, your nurses have to endure increases, their proneness to burnout will increase. 

Patient Dissatisfaction 

Your practice's ability to attract and keep patients is directly related to having positive patient feedback. When patients do not receive quality care, they often become dissatisfied with your service. There is no faster way to run out of business than recording multiple bad reviews.

10 Tips For Coping With Short-Staffing


Nurses need to learn to focus on high-priority tasks first. Make sure they understand how to classify their nursing activities as low, medium, or high priority. Working in an understaffed condition calls for strategic workflow planning. 

They can with high priority activities like critical assessments and technical procedures like tracheal suctioning. Then they can handle medium profile activities like educating your patients. They can also delegate low-priority tasks to unlicensed assistive personnel (UAPs), family members, or volunteers. 


Train your nurses to be organized. Before entering a patient's room, let all equipment and supplies are gathered and ready. If they need anything extra, encourage them to utilize support personnel. 

Encourage Teamwork 

When every hand is on deck and evenly distributed, work becomes easy. Therefore, you need to encourage your nurse to foster a team spirit while at work. They can make a culture where no one can sit until everyone can sit. 

This way, anyone who finishes their task first can help others with more time-consuming tasks. Also, no one will end up feeling overworked or over-exhausted. 

Utilize UAP's Wisely 

Unlicensed assistive personnel (UAPs) can ease the workload on your nurses by performing the less technical task on their behalf. However, it is essential to know what you can delegate and what you can't delegate. 

Ensure you are compliant with the nursing governing council in your state as touching the regulations guiding UAPs job descriptions. 

Recruit Additional Talent 

Asides from nurses, recruit more relevant hands to handle all nonclinical activities so that your nurses can focus on treatment. 

 Effective Communication 

Communicate with your staff in clear terms. Make them understand your plans for coping during staff shortages. Also, it would help if you encouraged active communication among your team. Ensure the atmosphere is accessible enough for them to ait their feelings when overwhelmed.

 Encourage Collaboration WIth Nursing Administration 

Working with nurse managers and administrators can make it easier to cope with shortages. When nurses inform their administrators about staff shortages, they can reallocate or employ staff and offer overtime or incentive pay. 

Encourage Family Participation 

During family visits, you can ask them in a friendly tone if they can help. If they agree to allow it, you can offer suggestions on where they can help, like assisting with meals. Never tell them you have a staff shortage. 

Keep The Attitude Positive  

When you pass through a challenge with a positive attitude, you can achieve great things no matter the situation. 

However, If your attitude is negative, it can affect the morale and performance of your staff team. Continually tell yourself and encourage your team that you can thrive in challenging situations. 

Ensure Your Staff Are Taking Care of Themselves 

See that your nursing staff takes a break as at when due. No matter how short, taking momentary breaks in the break room can go a long way in preventing nurse burnout.

Final Thoughts

The hacks highlighted in this article can help practices cope with short staffing. By leveraging technology and creative strategies, practices can make the most of their limited resources. 

When practices work together and share ideas, they can improve patient care and maintain their bottom line.

Latest articles.

Article headline