Addressing the Problem of Nurse Understaffing

Table of Contents


Nowadays, hospitals and other healthcare institutions experience a number of problems, nurse understaffing being one of the most common of them (Davis, Mehrotra, Holl, & Daskin, 2014). It may lead to lower quality of health care and, consequently, to worse patient outcomes (Meyer & Clarke, 2011; Kiekkas, 2013). Therefore, it is paramount to address this issue if the quality of patient care is to be improved. In this paper, the problem of nurse understaffing will be considered. The analysis of the related financial problems will be provided; the potential budget impact of handling this problem will be assessed and the role of nurses in addressing the issue will be discussed.

The Analysis of the Financial Problems

It is stressed that the main reason for nurse understaffing is the lack of financial resources needed to pay for the nurses’ work (Martin, 2015). Nurses working in understaffing conditions often experience stress and fatigue and may suffer from burnout (Garrett, 2008), which increases the turnover rates and forces hospitals to spend more resources on nurse hiring and training. Further, nurse understaffing is associated with worse patient outcomes and higher mortality rates (Meyer & Clarke, 2011; Kiekkas, 2013). Also, nurses who are forced to work in understaffing conditions are often unable to provide patients with the care of the highest quality, which may lead to client dissatisfaction and cause further financial problems for the hospital (Upenieks, Akhavan, Kotlerman, Esser, & Ngo, 2007; Garrett, 2008). Therefore, it is crucial to provide adequate levels of nurse staffing in hospitals, if not to improve patient outcomes and reduce the mortality rates, then so as not to lose the money paid by the patients who are unsatisfied with the provided care.

The Potential Budget Impact

It is stressed that more than 50% of hospital wage bills are utilized to pay healthcare personnel (Keenan & Kennedy, 2003). Increasing the number of nurses working in a hospital unit will have an influence on the budget of the medical institution, and may lead to significant additional expenses. Thus, it is paramount to identify ways that may be employed to balance the need for increasing the number of nursing staff and the dearth of financial resources of a healthcare institution.

It is known that employing nurses on a permanent basis is cheaper than hiring temporary nursing staff. Therefore, it might be advised to hire on permanent bases a sufficient number of nurses. This will both address the issue of nurse understaffing and lower the financial spending of the institution.

The Role of Nurses in the Process of Information Analysis

It is important that nurses participate in the evaluation of the issue of nurse understaffing in a hospital facility. The nurses will be able to assess the degree of understaffing and provide recommendations regarding the number of personnel required. In particular, the chief nurse will have better access to the records in which the information pertaining to the amount of overwork done by the nurses in the hospital is stored, which will be helpful in assessing the degree of the nursing staff dearth. The nurse manager will be able to offer advice regarding the areas of patient care that are most vulnerable to nurse understaffing, providing help with formulating plans for the labor division once the new nurses are hired. Finally, staff nurses will also be able to highlight the areas which currently cause problems; in addition, their opinion should also be taken into account when creating the labor division plans, for they will be the individuals executing the concrete tasks related to the patient care.


To sum up, it should be stressed that nurse understaffing may significantly lower the quality of care, cause the hospital to lose its patients, and lead to problems related to the nursing personnel (e.g., high nurse turnover rates). To address this problem, it is recommended to hire an adequate number of nurses on a permanent basis. The current nursing staff should also participate in the process of decision-making when it comes to hiring new nurses.


Davis, A., Mehrotra, S., Holl, J., & Daskin, M. S. (2014). Nurse staffing under demand uncertainty to reduce costs and enhance patient safety. Asia-Pacific Journal of Operational Research, 31(01), 1-19.

Garrett, C. (2008). The effect of nurse staffing patterns on medical errors and nurse burnout. AORN Journal, 87(6), 1191-1204.

Keenan, P., & Kennedy, J. (2003). The nursing workforce shortage: Causes, consequences, proposed solutions. The Commonwealth Fund, 1(1), 1-8.

Kiekkas, P. (2013). Nurse understaffing and infection risk: Current evidence, future research and health policy. Nursing in critical care, 18(2), 61-62. Web.

Martin, C. J. (2015). The effects of nurse staffing on quality of care. MedSurg Nursing, 24(2), 4-6.

Meyer, R. M., & Clarke, S. P. (2011). Shifts with nurse understaffing and high patient churn linked to heightened inpatient mortality risk in a single site study. Evidence-Based Nursing, 14(4), 122-123. Web.

Upenieks, V. V., Akhavan, J., Kotlerman, J., Esser, J., & Ngo, M. J. (2007). Value-added care: A new way of assessing nursing staffing ratios and workload variability. Journal of Nursing Administration, 37(5), 243-252.

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