Nurse scheduling is a complex process and it presents many challenges to schedulers and managers:

  • Medical facilities need 24/7 coverage while facing chronic staff shortage.
  • Different acuity levels of patients require nurses with different certifications and skillsets.
  • The mix of part-time and full-time staff requires separate scheduling for each group.
  • Schedulers need to balance work time and rest time for nurses.
  • The fast-paced and ever-changing nature of the healthcare industry makes scheduling a never-ending process.

This is why it’s crucial to understand the importance of effective nurse scheduling and learn how to schedule nurses better. Let’s get started.

The importance of effective nurse scheduling

Being fully staffed with the right nurses

The challenge of healthcare staffing is to keep medical facilities fully staffed while also finding qualified nurses for patient needs. Schedulers in some countries and states are required to maintain specific nurse-to-patient ratios, which complicates the scheduling process even further.

An efficient nurse scheduling process allows hospitals to better handle last-minute changes and stay in compliance with labor laws. It also ensures smooth and effective communication among employees, and between schedulers and employees.

Increased employee engagement and satisfaction

Employee engagement and satisfaction are especially important in the healthcare industry due to the high stress level. Nurses must work long shifts and deal with stressful situations daily. They are more prone to exhaustion, burnout, and job dissatisfaction. All of these factors can have serious consequences, one of which is a decrease in the quality of patient care.

Nurse scheduling strategies that consider staff preferences can give employees more control over their schedules, improving engagement and satisfaction while alleviating some of the burdens on managers.

Optimized labor costs

Reducing labor costs while maintaining optimal staffing and quality of patient care can be challenging. Schedulers must avoid unnecessary overtime and schedule time for breaks while ensuring that all shifts are covered.

To create cost-efficient schedules and optimize labor costs, managers can forecast demand and labor needs based on historical data. Another common strategy is to invest in better employee retention to reduce costly turnover. The right nurse scheduling process will have to take all these factors into account.

3 most common nurse scheduling problems and solutions

Schedule conflicts

Schedule conflicts are a common nurse scheduling issue. Different locations, emergencies, long shifts, etc.—all of these factors contribute to schedule conflicts such as double-scheduling or understaffing.

Employers need a flexible and reliable system to find the right staff for each shift and avoid shift conflicts. This system should also make it easy for nurse staff to view their schedules, confirm their shifts, and swap shifts in order to deal with schedule changes as soon as possible.

Excessive overtime

The effect of staff shortage means that working more than 12 hours has become very common in medical facilities and hospitals. Working overtime results in exhaustion, which can affect both staff retention and the quality of patient care. A study shows that nurses working extended shifts are more likely to be dissatisfied with the job, suffer from burnout, and intend to leave the job.

Although this problem is difficult to resolve unless more nurses are available to be hired, you can still take steps to address it via your scheduling procedure. You can keep track of the demand to identify trends and patterns—which periods are busy and which are not, then make better scheduling decisions.

Acuity levels

Every patient has a different level of acuity. High-acuity patients demand more skilled nurses who can handle challenging medical conditions, provide specialized care, and respond quickly to unpredictable circumstances. This requires schedulers and managers to seek nurses with specific qualifications and skills, not just anyone.

Managers need a system where they can both keep track of patient acuity levels and qualifications/skills needed for each patient. The two should be easily accessible and organized so that managers can refer to them easily while scheduling.

3 nurse scheduling tips that schedulers & managers should know

Talk to nurses about their work preferences

In addition to working long exhausting shifts, nurses have a lot on their plate—family obligations, personal lives, further education, so on and so forth. Nurses will appreciate that their preferences are factored in the scheduling process. 

Let them communicate their preferences—what hours/shifts they prefer to work, when they’re available/unavailable. Put the information into your scheduling system, whether it’s a spreadsheet or the nurse scheduling software you’re using.

Having adequate information also helps with creating efficient schedules that don’t need constant adjustments.

But this is just the first step.

Create and distribute nurse schedules in advance

Scheduling in the healthcare industry always calls for constant revisions. Besides nurses’ skillsets and availability, factors such as your organization’s fluctuating demand, patients’ needs, and medical staff’s needs can also be taken into account. That’s why it’s necessary to schedule in advance so that you have enough time to deal with changes.

Using manual scheduling methods such as Excel scheduling or pen and paper has become outdated. Adjustments and manual input will consume hours of your time. A cloud-based nurse scheduling app will make it easier to adapt to the fast-paced nature of the healthcare industry. You can instantly inform your employees of scheduling changes without manually contacting or messaging them.

Allow flexible scheduling practices

Flexible scheduling practices allow nursing staff to have more control over their shifts. They can trade shifts, select open shifts on a first-come, first-serve basis, or find shift replacements by themselves.

Flexible scheduling can take some pressure off the managers. But managers still need some control over the process to make sure staff with the right qualifications cover the traded shifts.

To adopt shift trades or open shifts, you need a flexible and controlled shift trading process. Nurses also need a streamlined communication system to stay connected and receive last-minute changes. This can be difficult to achieve if you plan schedules on paper and spreadsheets, then distribute schedules via chat apps or emails.

It’s best to use nurse scheduling software so that nurses can submit shift swap requests and managers can review the requests before approval.

A better solution for nurse scheduling

The importance of effective nurse scheduling is undeniable in healthcare facilities. To create a scheduling process that is optimal for both nurses and patient care, it may take a lot of trial and error to find strategies that work.

Manual work is simpler at first, but it will gulp down your time and energy as the need of your medical facilities grows. A cloud-based, automated scheduling app like Camelo can make nurse scheduling less of a headache for schedulers and managers.

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