Avoiding the SuperNurse Syndrome – How to Not Feel Like a Terrible Nurse When Understaffed


“Normally we worked with three nurses. Today one nurse called in. No one could replace her. I did my best to give the medications on time. I barely got all the treatments done. I fell behind in my assessments. There was no time to talk with patients or families. I squeezed in a couple trips to the bathroom. Somehow I wolfed down a sandwich. I don’t remember many of the details of the day. All I know is I’m tired. And worse of all, I feel like I did not give good care today. I’m a rotten nurse.”

Have you ever felt like this after a long day with not enough staff to do your job well? You’re not the only one. I’ve heard this for years from some of the best nurses I know. No matter what the circumstances, it bothers them to not give as good quality care as they expect from themselves. Here are four ways to feel better when this happens.

First, examine your expectations of yourself. Do you expect to always give the highest quality care no matter what? With less staff than normal, do you try to do everything for your patients that you normally do with full staffing? If you answered yes, and most of my nurse friends did, then I would say you have what I call the “super nurse syndrome.” No matter what the circumstances, you are going to stretch yourself to your limits. You are setting yourself up to feel badly.

What you can do immediately:

1. Accept there maybe times that you are going to give less than excellent nursing care. There will always be circumstances beyond your control. You are still a good nurse. You can only do so much.

2. At the beginning of the shift, set priorities for what must be done to give good care. Skip non-essentials. Postpone anything that can wait until tomorrow.

3. Ask for help. Let your manager or supervisor know you are struggling and what they can do to help. If you feel your staffing is unsafe, let them know right at the beginning of the shift.

4. If all else fails, and the shift does not go as well as you hoped, feel good that you did the best you could. Do not be down on yourself.

For a long-term solutions, work with your fellow nurses and nursing administration to plan what to do when there is “less than optimal” staff. After all, you both have the goal of a workplace that promotes and supports the highest quality nursing care possible.

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