When healthcare facilities have insufficient nurses on staff, the welfare of patients can be compromised. Moreover, overwhelmed nurses could overlook details or not fully engage with patients. This can leave patients feeling dissatisfied with nurse performance.

Why Does Understaffing Occur?

Budget cuts, nurses reaching retirement age and a shortage of nurse faculty to prepare new nurses are just a few reasons for understaffing.

Is There a Link Between Understaffing and Negative Patient Outcomes?

Healthcare facilities that do not keep an adequate number of nurses on duty can jeopardize the safety of their patients. Overworked nurses may suffer from fatigue or burnout which can impair their ability to focus on tasks. This lack of focus can lead to medical errors, a lack of engagement and missed nursing care. Patients in understaffed facilities face an increased rate of in-hospital mortality, a higher risk of infection, a rise in postoperative complications, and a greater number of falls.

How Does Understaffing Affect Nurses?

When a healthcare facility is understaffed, the same amount of work falls to fewer nurses who typically end up working longer hours. Doing so with little to no relief can cause a breakdown in mental, emotional and physical health. Nurses who are sick or injured may be absent from work, which can also compound the staffing problem. In addition, nurses who face constant stress can develop a number of health issues, including anxiety, exhaustion, depression, heart disease, hypertension and musculoskeletal disorders.

Does Inadequate Nurse Staffing Affect Patient Satisfaction?

A scarcity of available nurses can affect patient satisfaction. In a study cited by the British Medical Journal, negative patient perceptions of nursing care relate to missed care, which can be a result of a shortage of nursing staff. Patients can also lose confidence in the care they receive when RNs are too rushed to explain medications or coordinate care with other team members.

Why Is Patient Satisfaction Important to the Healthcare Industry?

The healthcare industry is moving toward patient-centered care, so good satisfaction ratings are important. As consumers, patients can boost or damage the reputation of a facility with their opinions. Satisfied patients could become loyal patrons, contributing to the financial stability of a healthcare organization.

What Can Healthcare Organizations Do to Improve Nurse Staffing?

Healthcare organizations need to focus on retaining nurses by maintaining an effective and supportive work environment. The American Nurses Association (ANA) recommends that employers allow RNs to work together to create flexible staffing schedules for their units. ANA suggests that employers should consider these factors when determining nurse staffing:

  • Condition of patients based on complexity, acuity or stability
  • Number of discharges, admissions or transfers to the unit
  • The staff’s level of nursing preparation, expertise and skills
  • Size of the nursing unit
  • Technical support and additional resources

Given that nurses provide care and safeguard the well-being of patients, it is imperative for employers to keep qualified nurses from exiting the workforce. Nurses who not only have proper nursing preparation but are also empathetic, dedicated and vigilant can help improve patient outcomes and ensure that patients are satisfied with their care.

Learn more about EMU’s online RN to BSN program.


Wolters Kluwer: Study: Patient Satisfaction Grows With Nurse Staffing

Department for Professional Employees: Safe Staffing: Critical for Patients and Nurses

Patient Engagement Hit: Patient Satisfaction and HCAHPS: What It Means for Providers

BMJ Open: Patient Satisfaction With Hospital Care and Nurses in England: An Observational Study