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

Career News October 28, 2013

Perhaps more now than ever, nurses are sure to experience short staffed situations in the hospital working environment. The reason for this is because the baby boomer generation, specifically, is living longer, meaning that there’s a need for more specialized health care and thereby more specialized health care professionals.

That’s where nurses come into play. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, the nursing profession is due to increase at a 26 percent, faster than average, clip by 2020, adding about 712,000 jobs as demand heats up in the 10-year span between 2010 and 2020. But the problem is that there are currently not enough qualified instructors in nursing schools, which thereby limits the amount of nursing students that can be accepted and the amount of nursing students that graduate from such programs each year. Essentially, there’s not enough supply to keep up with the demand, meaning that nurses will likely experience work in short staffed hospitals, at least in the near term.

While the thought of working in a short staffed environment may seem daunting, but with proper planning, it’s possible to still offer quality health care. Here are some tips on how to work as a nurse in a short staffed situation:


Prioritizing is a simple concept, yet it’s not utilized to its fullest potential in most working environments. For instance, if there’s a patient that’s requiring immediate care vs. a patient that is stable, there should be no debate over who takes priority. The nursing staff should make sure that all employees are on the same page in terms of prioritizing patient care.

Use Assistance

Most hospitals employ unlicensed assisted personnel, or UAPs, to aid doctors and nurses with everyday, simple activities in the work environment. However, these UAPs, while they aren’t qualified to do many of the tasks that the average nurse is, are still not utilized to their full potential. Nurses should always look to UAPs for assistance with tasks that are within the scope of their work. Delegating can save time and allow nurses to tend to more significant matters if they can pass off more elementary matters to another qualified peer.


In any short staffed environment, whether it may be a hospital or a business office, there needs to be communication. And good communication, at that, as everyone needs to be kept on the same page and know what their roles and responsibilities are. This can be done by holding meetings every week and going over everyone’s roles, as well as addressing any concerns or incidents that occurred in the past week to make sure that they don’t happen again. In a hospital environment, it may not be feasible to meet on a weekly basis. If that’s the case, consider designating someone to write a staff newsletter with the aforementioned points listed in them to mail or e-mail to hospital staff members each week.

Don’t be Selfish

When working in a short staffed environment where nurses are completing more work than they would in a normal staffed environment, there can be a tendency for nurses to want breaks or slow down as their individual responsibilities diminish for the day. That’s no attitude to have in a short staffed hospital. Nurses should be encouraged to develop camaraderie in the workplace, which therefore will make them more apt to helping out a fellow peer when necessary. That’s why hospitals should consider holding team building activities and promoting a work environment as more than just a place to go to pay the bills, but more of as a family. It’s an old cliché, but remember, there’s no “I” in team.

Analyze and Respond

Perhaps the best way to cope with a short staffed hospital environment is to find the root cause as to why certain units are short staffed and take measures to correct them. While some of this may be out of the control of the hospital or individual unit where there’s a shortage, most of the time with a bit of forward thinking, issues can be resolved and the supply can equal the demand in any given work environment.

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