Understaffing Nurses

Understaffing Nurses


Institutional Affiliation:


Understaffing Nurses

Key words

Hippocratic Oath, rapport, zeal, conducive


Medical attention is a common service that everyone undergoes at one point in time. Its importance to the society cannot be gainsaid. The bulk of work in any hospital is carried out by the nurses. It is upon them to fulfill the whims of the patients once the doctors have made their diagnosis. Currently, there is a shortage of nurses in most public health institutions. Examination of this national crisis reveals that most workers in the nursing profession cite lower pay and poor working conditions as the main motivators behind their exit into the private sector. The resultant understaffing highly contributes to the numerous medical blunders witnessed in such facilities.


Healthcare facilities depend on different medical personnel to provide care services to patients. Such establishments require the constant presence of all types of practitioners because emergencies occur at any time. Understaffing is the deliberate act of having fewer workers within an organization. It symbolizes the reduction of employee output for running large operations. Nurses are healthcare givers who are tasked with the day-to-day care of the sick. As such, they are involved in the treatment and recovery process after the diagnosis has been made. They are integral in facilitating a faster healing process. Fewer cases of nurses within a medical entity create a shortage of such services. It makes it difficult for the low number of nurses handle all the workload, especially when working in large hospitals with a huge traffic of patients. Understaffing of nurses is responsible for various medical errors because of forcing such people to work under stressful circumstances for long hours.


A large segment of the society has had direct and indirect experiences with healthcare service providers. For instance, individuals, their friends, and relatives have occasionally fallen ill and sought the help of medical services. Observations drawn by different public health watchdog organizations and nursing lobby groups indicate that in most public medical centers, patients wait longer before being attended to and sometimes, concerned nurses display fatigue (El-Radhi, 2015). In fact, it is common for these individuals to interact with sick people while exhibiting physical exhaustion. It would be prudent to examine the occurrences of such behavior, its frequency, and nature of consequences to both nurses and patients alike.

Understaffing is a threat to the safety of patients because overworked nurses tend to easily forget their duties, which delays much-needed services to the patients. Additionally, it impairs their judgment which makes tired nurses provide the wrong medication, leading to serious deterioration of people’s health conditions. Some nurses have been observed sleeping instead of being vigilant during their shifts. This goes against their sworn oath to always be alert, especially since emergencies are bound to happen. Holistic recovery involves having a good rapport with the patients to ease their pain by comforting them.

In fact, nurses are vital elements of the support structure needed to aid a sick person to overcome his/her condition (Knudson, 2013). Understaffing, however, prolongs an individual’s working hours which easily makes him/her irritable. Involvement of nurses in altercations with sick people is a recipe for poor health care with disastrous consequences for the patients. It is therefore important to address the causes of staff shortage in medical facilities and their effect on service delivery because it is an integral sector of the society. The risk factor in these circumstances has to be highlighted to reinforce the belief that inadequate nursing personnel is the cause of serious health problems to patients and medical practitioners.


Usability testing forms a great method for qualitative and quantitative collection of healthcare data to reveal the main causes of understaffing of nurses. This entails the examination of different nursing census over a certain duration to grasp the rate of decline in their numbers. It would also involve collation of feedback from various patients concerning their assessment of the various levels of treatment. Such information would help in bolstering the overall objective of the study. Likewise, challenges faced by different health institutions will be scrutinized to create a link between the management and the nurses’ woes.

As such, it is clear that most nurses tend to switch to the private sector, which reduces the number of personnel left in the public healthcare industry. Sometimes, their exit is attributable to an aging workforce that cannot handle the rigors of the current hospital environments. Their zeal for the private sphere is anchored in the presence of poor working conditions within public institutions. Few nurses find themselves assigned multiple patients with an extended time frame which forces them to work for long hours under agonizing circumstances. It is under such situations that nurses become demoralized because they lack the impetus to sustain this arrangement.

However, public health administrators cite the lack of resources as the leading cause of this problem. The minimal funds available are not enough to pay high salaries and offer nursing education and research opportunities to more people. It is therefore evident that the cause of understaffing of nurses is the prevalence of inadequate resources which makes affected individuals prefer the ell-paying private sector. Those who remain face the daunting challenge of offering their services to an ever-increasing population in an environment with little incentive for performing such responsibilities.


Sahib El-Radhi accurately portrays the deep-seated feelings of insecurity that patients and their loved ones have concerning the effects of low numbers of nurses (El-Radhi, 2015). He asserts that family members and friends have gradually developed a greater interest in remaining with their patients because they believe the fewer nurses available have become more lethargic. James Buchan cites inadequate planning of available workforce and skewed allocation of their services as the main causes of the problem (Buchan, 2008). He, however, lays an emphasis on the shallow support given to the nursing profession by policy makers as the genesis of the crisis. Leslie Knudson links staffing shortages to the poor recovery efforts made by patients (Knudson, 2013). She reinforces this notion by offering archival records that indicate patients who gain admission in facilities with lower numbers of nurses having a higher mortality rate. Richard Redman opines that prolonged job dissatisfaction by the nurses leads to burnout which aids in making them clumsy (Redman, 2006). In fact, according to the articles, a pattern of voluntary and mandatory overtime is a common phenomenon adopted by health institutions. Forcing nurses to endure lengthier shifts for minimal pay is a common refrain amongst the affected practitioners who deem such inhumane treatment as an exhaustive endeavor. It demoralizes them and places a strain on their lives because they spend less time with their family members and rush from one patient to another without having time for relaxation and rejuvenation.

In fact, lack of monetary compensation for all these efforts dampens their mood, resulting in the commission of various medical blunders. Some acknowledge following the cumbersome directives of their respective management teams out of the need to save their jobs and survive the harsh economy. Buchan further states that a continuation of this crisis threatens the very existence of humanity because of the inherent risk of contagious diseases harming a large section of the population. Accordingly, the articles implore for proper and adequate resource allocation for the health sector to address the discrepancies outlined above.

Pros and Cons

All institutions seek to remain profitable and employ strategies that suit this goal. Most public heath entities downsize their nursing personnel to reduce their expenditure and maintain a level of profitability that runs the various operations. A small workforce becomes ideal because it systematically slashes the budgetary allocations for various projects. It also helps in maintaining a team of dedicated nurses who are enthusiastic about their job. Most of those that are retained have a proven track record of higher productivity. The management and patients would benefit from such great service. However, healthcare providers are duty bound to save lives. It is an integral part of the Hippocratic Oath they take. Understaffing is a serious impediment to the realization of this divine obligation. It endangers the lives of patients by exposing them to a tired, unhappy, intellectually inept and emotionally drained workforce whose actions/inactions may lead to further complications or even death. Additionally, it risks exposure to infections when patients are neglected and left unattended. In fact, understaffing has become a health crisis because it has stonewalled the performance of major surgeries and impeded the delivery of most services to a needy public.

The welfare of nurses is an integral aspect of the healthcare profession because it enables them to perform their duties in a conducive environment. Examination of the staffing shortage that has hit many facilities is important in altering the existing harsh conditions and improving them for the benefit of all stakeholders. Health standards outlined by the statutory medical board requires nurses to attend to patients when in physiological shape. It, therefore, disallows them from working when under duress, physically harmed and stressed out. However, understaffing leads to these occurrences (Redman, 2006). Highlighting their plight would help professionalize their services because it would force the necessary federal and local authorities to institute better terms of service for the millions of nurses. Such a bold move would guarantee them better salaries, superior medical cover, flexible working hours and greater opportunities for career development. Implementation of these changes would herald a better healthcare environment, highly-motivated nursing fraternity with sufficient members to handle the large patient population. Fewer mistakes will be made, and public confidence in the profession will be reasserted, leading to higher rates of recovery and a happy populace.


Medical facilities should employ the services of travel workers who are cheaper and enthusiastic about their jobs. They would happily shore up the staffing levels at a lower cost. Recruitment of nursing professionals should be merit-based and successful candidates screened for possession of multiple healthcare skills. Such individuals would be vital for job rotation services upon gaining employment. Regular movement of nurses in different fields of specialization would reduce instances of burnout and aid in the acquisition of relevant experience for career growth. Introduction of monetary incentives for hardworking professionals is also advisable because it creates healthy internal competition amongst the workforce for better service delivery. Flexibility in the creation of schedules is important too because it enables nurses achieve a work-life balance. They are able to choose when to have their downtime, which increases their productivity during their shifts (Buchan, 2008). Medical assistants and other unlicensed staff within the healthcare profession should be utilized to the full extent permissible by law to lighten the workload. For example, such individuals can be used for certain menial jobs within the facilities to shoulder the burden carried by nurses. Repetition of this routine would foster teamwork in healthcare delivery and the inherent harmonious environment would improve the quality of such services. Patients would have quicker recovery periods. Understaffing of nurses is therefore a major crisis that requires the concerted efforts of all stakeholders to facilitate its main objective of saving as many lives as possible.









Buchan, J. (2008). Solving Nursing Shortages: a common Priority. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 17(24), 3262-3268.

El-Radhi, S. (2015). Safeguarding the Welfare of Children: what is the Nurse’s Role. British Journal of Nursing, 24(15), 7-18.

Knudson, L. (2013). Nurse staffing Levels linked to Patient Outcomes, Nurse Retention. AORN Connections, 97(1), 1-9.

Redman, R. (2006). Staff Nurses and their Solutions to the Nursing Shortage. Journal of Nursing Administration, 34(2), 71-77.

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