4 Nurse Staffing Issues to Avoid

July 17, 2020 •

When it comes to patient care, safe nurse staffing is paramount. While there will always be challenges with having the precise number of qualified nurses available on each day, there are common pitfalls you can avoid. 

To understand how to solve staffing issues, you first need to identify the four primary problems. These include:

  • Understaffing
  • Nurse fatigue
  • Misuse of digital tools
  • Nurse turnover

Managing these issues will positively impact patient care outcomes, your reputation as a healthcare organization, and your hospital’s overall success. Keep reading to learn how to keep these common problems at bay, and how to handle each when they arise.

Nurse Staffing Issues and Implications

Higher nurse staffing levels correlate to better patient outcomes. For years, the American Nurses Association (ANA) and AMN Healthcare have pointed to the direct link between nurse inadequate staffing and compromised patient safety. They found that inadequate staffing is directly linked to the following:

  • Poorer patient outcomes
  • Longer hospital stays
  • Increased chance of patient mortality

Risking patient safety because of a staffing shortage is unacceptable for patients and their families, and inhibits your ability as a registered nurse or health organization to help more people in the future. On top of this, these errors in short staffing damage your reputation and can result in costly lawsuits.


More so than inadequate training, lack of qualified nurses in a healthcare facility is a major cause of strife across the industry. Understaffing of nurses is a leading cause of healthcare associated infections (HAIs)—the infections patients get while receiving care for another condition. According to a  Columbia University School of Nursing study, HAIs such as urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia were all directly correlated to understaffing. 

In addition to being unfair to patients, HAIs add billions to healthcare costs annually nationwide.

Understaffing also leads to heavier workloads, which leads to nurse fatigue and poorer quality of care. When that happens, you can expect more:

  • HAIs
  • Accidents
  • Medical errors

This interferes with proper recovery and creates grounds for legal action to be taken against you as either a nurse leader or healthcare organization.

Nurse Fatigue

Being a nurse is mentally and physically demanding enough without being short staffed. When that happens, the burden on nurses dramatically increases. This in turn can have a grave impact on patients. 

A recent survey conducted by Kronos Inc identified the role fatigue plays in nursing and how to combat these issues. Major finding include: 

  • 85% of Registered Nurses (RNs) said their work causes them to feel fatigued
  • 40% of RNs worry their patients will suffer because of their fatigue
  • 11% of RNs admitted to making fatigue-related mistakes in the past

When asked about workplace fatigue, nurses response was:  

  • 60% said having more say in their schedules would create a better work-life balance
  • 42% believed more breaks at work would be helpful
  • 41% liked the idea of health and wellness programs offered through work

Understaffing and fatigue go hand-in-hand, and can result in malpractice lawsuits should issues arise. This is why having a professional liability policy as a registered nurse or medical staffer is absolutely necessary. A professional liability policy protects individuals and businesses from claims of professional errors such as negligence and malpractice.

Preventing these means solving the underlying issues of short staffing and inadequate scheduling.

Misuse of Digital Tools

In today’s digital age, many healthcare facilities make use of digital scheduling systems, scribe software, and telehealth communications—all of which store patient data online. For nurses who are older or who were trained in a paper-based method, the electronic systems can be confusing and provide room for error. 

Combine this with understaffing and nurse fatigue, and suddenly you’re vulnerable to cyber security breaches. By staffing properly and training all nurses on the changing technology, you can avoid accidental data breaches and the release of sensitive patient information.

Nurse Turnover

In terms of understanding how to start a nurse staffing agency that will provide sustainable results for hospitals and healthcare centers, it is key to implement the necessary safety measures that will ultimately reduce turnover. When nurse staffing ratios are low, fatigue or mandatory overtime are regular occurrences, leading to nurse burnout and turnover, which can quickly become huge problems for healthcare facilities. This worsens the burden on the remaining nurses, whose schedules will strain under the heavier workload—creating a snowball effect. 

Additionally, it puts patients at a higher risk for insufficient health care, and costs business owners more to recruit and train new nurses. The cost related to the loss of a nurse can be up to two times the annual salary of that nurse. On average, it costs a hospital $300,000 for each percentage point in RN turnover, making the annual cost of turnover in the millions, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute

Stay Prepared with NOW Insurance

All healthcare facilities will experience nurse staffing issues at some point—it’s less of a question of if, and more of a question of when. To ensure you’re prepared you need to have the proper medical staffing insurance.

With NOW Insurance, you’ll be able to get the exact coverage you need, customized to your position in a nursing or a medical staffing group. NOW Insurance has been protecting medical careers for over 20 years, from professional liability, to general liability, to cyber liability coverage. 

If you need coverage, and you need it NOW—the experts at NOW Insurance are ready to help. 


  1. AMN Healthcare Inc. Fatigue & Understaffing: A Threat to Patient Safety? https://www.rn.com/nursing-news/fatigue-understaffing-threat-to-patient-safety/
  2. Kronos Inc. Healthcare: Wake Up to the Facts About Fatigue. https://www.kronos.com/blogs/industry-insights/healthcare-wake-facts-about-fatigue
  3. Columbia School of Nursing. Columbia Nursing Study Finds Link Between Health Care Associated Infections and Nurse Understaffing. https://www.nursing.columbia.edu/news/columbia-nursing-study-finds-link-between-health-care-associated-infections-and-nurse
  4. PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute. What works.