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Tips for Working in a Hospital when Your Team is Short Staffed

Career News August 25, 2013

Due to the ongoing nursing shortage, state imposed nurse-to-patient ratios, last minute illnesses, vacations, and an ever-shifting influx of new patients, chances are your nursing team has been short staffed. In fact, staff shortage is probably not something that happens just once in a while, but is more likely a common occurrence at the hospital where you work. When it comes to properly handling staffing issues and ensuring that every patient gets the medical attention they need, nurses need to be flexible and quick-thinking. The old adage “There is no I in Team” is a motto that every nurse should learn, as it proves to be particularly beneficial when a healthcare facility is short staffed.

The Importance of Teamwork and Support

Teamwork is the key to handling a short staffed shift. When you work together as a closely-knit team, responsibilities and tasks can be accomplished more effectively and efficiently. If a hospital unit is hit with a slew of emergency admissions, which is all too common when you work in the healthcare field, teamwork is essential in order to get the job done, and it takes on an even greater importance when you’re short on staff.

Teamwork is not only about accomplishing the physical tasks of the nursing job, but in providing emotional support to your coworkers. If your team is short staffed, it’s not uncommon for nurses to become stressed and anxious. Nurses don’t want to feel as if they’re dealing with a burden all by themselves. Mental and emotional support during stressful times encourages a stronger bond between employees and contributes to the spirit of teamwork. The feeling that you’re all in this together can ease the stress and help nurses better cope with being short staffed.

Prioritizing Assignments

When there is a staffing shortage, successful time management is essential in the workplace. The best way to manage time is to prioritize, and this is a strategy that all nurses need to be proficient at. If you’re short staffed and trying to cover “x” number of patients, then some of the “special things” you might do for a patient when you’re unit is fully staffed might need to be put on hold. In other words, the shift assignments need to be prioritized by level of importance. While prioritization is critical for successful time management, good communication amongst the nursing team will make that prioritizing easier.

Delegating Tasks

From unit managers to CNA’s, there is a hierarchy in most healthcare facilities. However, while a unit manager might be in charge of a shift, all the nurses on the floor need to be skilled at job delegation. Delegation is one of the trickier aspects of the workplace. People do not want to appear officious and domineering. However, delegation is an important strategy in dealing with a staffing shortage, and delegating tasks does not need to be done in a disrespectful or demeaning manner. Asking a CNA or an unlicensed staff member to provide some additional help allows nurses more time to focus on the essential tasks. Skilled delegation enables a unit to be more efficient, and this sort of time management skill is fundamental to coping with a short staffed shift.

In the nursing profession, a day at work is unpredictable, and no two days are the same. When you’re short staffed, it can easily lead to further stress and workplace aggravation. Strategies and coping skills for these types of situations are not only vital for the nurses, but they will help ensure patients will receive the care and attention they need.

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