What To Do When You’re Short Staffed

Follow this guide when you are short staffed. There are a few things you can (and should) do as a nurse to help yourself and your patients.

How do you feel when your shift is short-staffed? It probably feels like you are losing control and can’t catch your breath. Unfortunately, being short-staffed is bad for the patient too. More mistakes happen nurses (and everyone) is trying to do too much.

What To Do When You Are Short Staffed

Being short staffed is going to happen. As long as there are humans that get sick, shifts are going to have more patients than you have nurses to help them. It’s best to be prepared ahead of time instead of freaking out when it happens.

These are my best tips for dealing with a shot-staffing problem. Try one – or all – of them. I hope they help you handle those rough days and nights.

1. Reach Out For Additional Support

Let’s start with the most obvious point first. If you need more help, ask for it! It might seem like the brainless solution, but it can feel stressful to be the person calling and asking for help. If you are struggling to get in touch with the on-call nurses, contact supervisors.

Another option that is always available is to ask for unlicensed assistive personnel (UAP). These are people that aren’t medical staff and they can help with data entry and basic housecleaning tasks that gives you more time to focus on patient care.

2. Work Together

When you know that you (and your fellow nurses) are overwhelmed with tasks, pair up and check each other’s work. Or, split up common tasks so that you don’t have as much work to do. Fewer errors will be made this way.

For example, one nurse can be in charge of dispensing medication to all of the patients and the other nurse can focus on all their other needs and questions.

3. Prioritize Your Tasks

Write down your to-do list and then high-light them in red (high priority), yellow (medium), and green (low priority) and work your way through them.

The higher priorities include critical assessments and lower priorities might be educating the patients.

It’s very important that you explain to the patients and their families that you are running short on staff so you won’t have time to answer questions immediately.

4. Utilize Family Members and Volunteers

If possible, ask family members and hospital volunteers to help out with low-priority patient care like reading to them or brushing their hair. Explain that you really want to but your team is short-staffed and you need to provide critical care to others on the floor.

Family members will also feel empowered, like they have an effective role in the care of their loved one.

5. Communicate Effectively

As difficult as it is, be very intentional with how you communicate with your fellow nurses. Work hard to be extra clear and try to be even nicer than normal. Everyone you are working with is feeling the same stress. It’s easy for one curt answer to hurt someone’s feelings and make the entire shift unbearable.

Look for ways to express gratitude when someone helps you out and always use please and thank you. These words go a long way!

6. Practice Deep Breathing

Even just a few seconds at the nurse’s station or before you enter a patient’s room will do wonders to lower your blood pressure and help you not appear stressed and rushed to the patient and their family members.

Before you talk to the patient and/or family, take a deep breath and focus on them. It’s very important that they feel valued and heard.

7. Maintain A Positive Attitude

Of all the tips on this list, this one is probably one of the most difficult! I get it, when you are short-staffed, it’s easier to get cranky and annoyed.

When you first hear that you short staffed, take a minute and adjust your attitude. Look at it like a challenge and tell yourself you are going to conquer it! Remind yourself that you’ve got this! It’s only 12 hours and soon you’ll be back in your bed, dreaming it all away.

This positive attitude will be contagious. If you are optimistic, you can encourage your team members and help them make this shift a success.

Short-Staffed Final Thoughts

Being short-staffed might seem like the worst thing in the entire world. Yes, it’s tough, but you can get through it and come out stronger on the other side. Speak up and ask for help when you need it and practice prioritization. You’ve got this!

More Nursing Tips

There are so many things you are going to love about being a nurse! Here are some more tips and tricks to make your nurse-life the best life!

1 thought on “What To Do When You’re Short Staffed”


    Is it okay for a nurse to have 25 pt’s on her own on a Short Term Rehab floor/Nursing home. Not able to meet the needs of the patients.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top