Short Staffing: 6 Awful Things That Happen When There’s Not Enough Nurses


Nurses can be considered as the jack-of-all-trades in the hospital. They can cover the front desk, complete their nurse’s aide’s duties, and even transfer patients from the laboratory back to their beds without any help from their assistants.

The old adage of “so many things to do, but so little time” is not new for us nurses- and so is short staffing. And if it doesn’t get addressed as soon as possible, here are six things we can all expect to happen.

1. More burnouts

When there’s not enough staff, nurses are forced to take more work than they can handle. This leaves them with insufficient time to relax, spend time with their family and just de-stress.

As tasks pile up, nurses begin to feel overwhelmed to the point that they no longer feel enthusiastic about working. They stopped looking forward to going to work and eventually, they just quit. This leaves patients with fewer nurses to care for them and the vicious cycle continues.

“We always have new nurses applying in this hospital. But after just a couple of months after getting hired, they leave their work. These nurses probably didn’t anticipate the kind of work they have to endure when they submitted their applications, particularly in a very short-staffed hospital like ours,” a six-year chief nurse shared.

2. Increased medical errors

Patients, these days, don’t come to the hospital with just one issue. Usually, they’ll present with three or four health concerns, particularly if you are dealing with the older population.

Medication error is one of the leading causes of death among patients in the hospital.
Medication error is one of the leading causes of death among patients in the hospital.

Addressing one patient with such complex health issues can take around 10 to 15 minutes. If you have nine other patients waiting for their medications, you’re likely to shorten the time you spend assessing each of them so all of your patients can get their medicines on time. When you’re in a hurry, it’s relatively easy to miss small but very important details that can cost you your patient’s life.

3. Low-quality patient care

When nurses get burnt out, they can quickly lose their temper, particularly when interacting with difficult patientsThere’s also fewer chances for nurses to really get to know their patients and their diseases. It can also compromise the quality of care they are able to give their patients.

Low-quality patient care results to a lot of problems- to the nurse, hospital and to the patients.


For one, there’s an increased risk of infections, such as pneumonia and catheter-related UTIs. It prolongs the patients’ stay in the hospital which, as a result, can increase their hospital bills. The longer these patients stay in the hospital, the more crowded the facility becomes and the lesser space there’ll be for new patients.

4. Animosity between peers

In a short-staffed hospital where nurses work under pressure and with a lot of stress, their working relationship can easily get strained. Petty misunderstandings, like getting bathroom breaks and late endorsements, can quickly blow out of proportions.

“Despite being short-staffed, we still try to keep a balanced schedule for our nurses. We make it a point to give them an equal number of free days so that they can rest and not get envious or feel unjust at their co-workers for having more time to spend with their family. It’s a really tough task, considering the number of nurses available for work,” a nurse supervisor said.

5. Increased mortality rate

When there are not enough nurses on the floor, patients are forced to wait and emergency medical services are delayed. For us nurses, time is very critical, especially when it’s your patient’s life that is at stake.

Delayed medical treatment puts a patient’s life at risk.
Delayed medical treatment puts a patient’s life at risk.

“The other night, we brought a patient to one hospital. We were forced to stay in their ER longer than we’re supposed to because there were not enough nurses available to take care of our patient. The ER nurses there were quite busy that night. They were all over the place,” an EMT said.

6. Lower patient satisfaction

One particular study has established that nursing quality and quantity can affect patient satisfaction. When there are fewer nurses available to address patients’ needs, they’re likely to feel unsatisfied about the care they received.

When there are fewer nurses available to address patients’ needs, they’re likely to feel unsatisfied about the care they received.

“When I have too many patients to handle, I tend to rush my work. It’s contrary to what I learned and what I should be doing as a nurse. But when you’re responsible for caring for 10 to 15 patients during your shift, you want to make sure those patients receive their treatments on time- even if it means not having to be the best nurse in the eyes of your patients’, a 4-year nurse admitted.

How does short-staffing affect your work as a nurse? How do you cope with it?


Rozzette Cabrera is a registered nurse pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a professional writer. She spent a few years putting her profession into practice until she decided to take her chances with freelance writing over a year ago. Her life has never been the same since then.
  • The Australian Government can fix our Health System with a stroke of a pen…but they have Care factor or direction.
    This government should hang their heads in shame, our health system is infected with half wits and greed for corporate management. Absurd amounts of money is paid to,people with no grounded knowledge or ability to fix this mess. We need a cohesive plan with care and respect to be re born.

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