The Key to a Healthier Enterprise: Unlocking the Potential of Nurse Scheduling

By Tony Torti

Nurses serve a critical function in any healthcare organization: They are equal parts medical professional, caregiver, counselor, and administrator. It is a challenging role in and of itself, but nursing has perhaps never been more challenging—or more needed—due to high nurse vacancy rates, COVID-19-related work stress, and more.

A recent study by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company revealed that 22% of nurses are considering leaving their jobs, 60% of whom said this possibility has become more likely since the beginning of the pandemic. A variety of factors influence nurses voluntarily separating from hospitals, but the 2021 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report found scheduling to be one of the top 10 reasons.

Fortunately, innovative solutions in automated scheduling can help the entire organization run more smoothly. Healthcare organizations of all types can realize significant benefits with these solutions:

  • Enhanced control for nurses. Manual or disjointed scheduling processes can often leave nursing staff needlessly frustrated—or, even worse, panicked to find appropriate shift coverage. Conversely, having a complete picture of their schedules allows nurses to plan ahead and create work-life balance, reducing turnover and increasing job satisfaction. Further, the ability to self-schedule allows nurses to search and accept shifts within their licensure and qualifications online, anytime and anywhere. This makes it easy for them to fit shift planning into their daily routine and create the schedule that best suits them. Advanced rules-based scheduling software with predetermined guidelines enables more equitable shifts not only from assigning hours accurately, but also from not repeatedly assigning weekend, overnight, or holiday shifts to the same nurses. On the other side of the equation, it enables nurses who would like to pick up incentive shifts to do so easily, with unitwide or enterprisewide visibility as to what shifts are available. Empowering nurses with greater self-directedness when it comes to their workday undeniably contributes to job satisfaction and employee retention.
  • Mitigating burnout. A recent article published by the Well-Being Index cited many studies showing that nurse burnout is prevalent due to the mental, physical, and emotional demands of the role. Streamlining the scheduling process using configurable tools is a simple yet significant way to alleviate the burden. Reducing the amount of time needed for administrative tasks allows nurses to concentrate on more critical tasks, like patient care. Additionally, searching for and accepting additional shifts online allows nurses to account for their preferences, helping their overall work-life balance. Ultimately, avoiding burnout not only improves the lives of nurses and those around them, but also helps health systems run as smoothly as possible, supporting superior patient care.
  • Operational optimization. Reducing unnecessary administrative time and effort by replacing manual scheduling, which can be inconsistent and error-prone, is an advantage not only for nurses, but for the entire enterprise’s efficiency, productivity, and bottom line. Optimization allows reallocation of staff time to higher-impact tasks that support patients and health outcomes, for example. Additionally, last-minute schedule management enables unanticipated critical needs to be dispatched to all qualified employees, ensuring optimal coverage for any situation without scrambling or chaos.

Assigning nurses with the proper qualifications to patients in need and balancing workload distribution are also both critical to maximizing the organization’s precious resources. Real-time scheduling, notifications, and communications with administrators and nurses allows the enterprise to achieve better transparency, visibility, and accountability. Because healthcare systems are not just organizations but organisms, this helps the cross-disciplinary healthcare team—including nurses—function as well as possible.

It’s clear that innovations in nurse scheduling software deliver multifaceted benefits to nurses, healthcare organizations, and their patients. Efficient and proactive scheduling processes increase organizational transparency and flexibility, while reducing burnout and providing nurses with more control over their schedules. Since nurses and healthcare organizations are facing high levels of stress, it’s important to prioritize processes and technology that can help nurses focus and connect with patients. To ensure both short- and long-range success, it’s vital to leverage innovations that offer the configurability and responsiveness needed for today’s nursing teams.

Tony Torti is senior vice president of Schedule360 at QGenda.