We all know that optimal nursing staff ratios lead to optimal patient outcomes. That’s why many institutions are working collaboratively with the health care team to implement staffing guidelines that will meet our increasingly complex patient needs. Unfortunately, while waiting for a solution to arrive, working a short-staffed shift is a challenge that nurses face on a regular basis. The great news is that working a short-staffed nursing shift does not automatically mean that you will have a horrible time. In fact, some of my most memorable shifts have been when my colleagues and I worked together to get the job done, despite the challenges of being down two nurses and without assistants to help with patient care.
Here are five ways you can also make the most of a short-staffed nursing shift:
Create a buddy system
No matter the staffing levels, buddy systems are especially helpful in dire situations. By having two nurses assigned as buddies, they can assist one another with patient care, covering breaks, and being available as a resource. This buddy system enables the nursing staff to better handle the patient loads and will encourage a team approach in delivering patient care.
Utilize patient resource personnel
Understandably so, many nurses get overwhelmed by all their patient assignments, including medication administration, treatments, and documentation—especially during a short-staffed nursing shift. Sometimes they forget that there are many patient resource personnel available, such as chaplains, social workers, case managers, doctors, and other members of the health care team. By identifying all patient needs, questions, or concerns, and putting in calls to the necessary individuals early within the nursing shift, you can save yourself a lot of headache and stress throughout the day.
Document as you go
Many institutions have electronic documentation capabilities, and often have mobile computer stations or bedside computers for easy access. By documenting during, or immediately after completing patient assessments, medication administration, and treatments, you can be sure that your documentation is up to date and correct. Do not try to remember all of the things you did earlier in the day, especially when you find yourself short staffed.
Manage time wisely
One of the most challenging things to do is to cut a patient conversation short so that you may move on to the next room. But in the circumstance of being short-staffed, you must gather the strength to do so. Time management is crucial on every shift, but being short staffed makes it a top priority. Make sure you are communicating with your patients so that they know what to expect, and keep personal conversations limited. If your best friend at work wants to elaborate on upcoming weekend plans, a responsible response would be to ask if you could talk more about their plans at the end of the shift, or during a break.
Take initiative and help others
In the event that you may be caught up on your work, be sure to ask your colleagues if they need any assistance. You may find yourself in a situation where more than half of your patients are off the unit for testing or a procedure, and in this time you could be regrouping and helping others get caught up on their patient assignments. Your teamwork approach will be very well received, and when all of your patients return to the unit at the same time, you’ll have the support necessary to meet your patient’s needs.