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March 22, 2023

Unlocking the Potential of Your Scheduler

Carin Overturf
Healthcare Industry

What is the role today?

It goes without saying that every position in healthcare is valuable to the operation. And as healthcare begins to shift toward flexible staffing, facilities have become more and more complex. You can think of the daily operations of a healthcare facility as a complicated maze that someone must navigate without any mistakes. The burden of this navigation falls almost entirely on one role—the role of the scheduler. 

The importance of the scheduler is often undervalued or unknown. The role can be inconsistent, and the work can be arduous. And yet, it is vital to the facility's success.  

Let's consider the work week of a healthcare facility. The complexities of creating a workable schedule, including permanent staff, outside agencies, and in some cases, an internal network of float nurses, is more than just complex. The scheduler must consistently hurdle all last-minute call-outs, COVID shift changes, overtime risks, and other roadblocks. 

On top of that, understanding the acuity levels of patients and staffing census is imperative to the successful operation of a facility. Constantly knowing what those numbers should be and structuring the schedule around them adds another layer to a scheduler's extensive list of responsibilities. 

Who is the scheduler?

The scheduler is one of the most complicated roles to define because the duties and responsibilities vary widely based on the type of facility they are serving. Let's focus on the staffing coordinator or nursing scheduler role, the person in charge of creating the week-by-week schedule of nurses and caregivers at a healthcare facility. 

In this context, a scheduler's responsibilities align with those of a unit supervisor or a nurse manager position due to the amount of authority they have. For this reason, other staff members may view the scheduler as a manager or supervisor because they control their entire schedule. They dictate their work schedules, time off, and vacations which directly correlates to how much they get paid and how much time they get for their personal lives. That is a colossal responsibility put on a role that isn't usually a salaried position. Even more, the position is often-times filled by a promoted CNA, RN, Nurse Manager, or other healthcare professionals.

Defined Role vs. Actual Impact

The nurse scheduler's defined and actual impact are two entirely different things. Most facilities need help understanding the magnitude and impact a scheduler has and how vital they truly are. 

The actual title and semantics of the role don't equate to the responsibilities the position entails. Here are a couple of facts involving the job of a nurse scheduler that you may find surprising. 

  1. Staffing expenses often make up over 50% of all expenses in a healthcare facility which schedulers are entirely in charge of.
  2. They often have a deep knowledge of the preferences and personal lives of the staff members they schedule for.
  3. They understand the minimum staffing requirements, census levels, and compliance levels like quality reporting and resident safety of the facility at all times.
  4. They can execute the complicated and critical operational duty of staffing one or more facilities weeks in advance.
  5. They must respond quickly and effectively to last-minute call-outs, other staff member conflicts, patient or resident influxes, and many other staff crises that may arise. 

Considering these responsibilities, the value of a scheduler is no less than any other position. With a properly trained and committed scheduler, the operations of a facility will stay intact. If this impact is understood, facilities can start imparting more strategies around the role. Understanding your scheduler's workflow, day-to-day, and responsibilities is the same as understanding exactly how you operate. And with that knowledge, more strategy, innovation, and growth can happen.

Nurse Stories

So how does a CNA or frontline worker adapt to such a tremendously intimidating role? Well, speaking to nurse schedulers firsthand, we have heard some of the ways they took the challenge on and were able to become successful.

One story stuck out to us, coming from a scheduler at a skilled nursing facility. After being promoted to the position, the need for flexible staffing became prevalent. They had to come up with their own solution. Using their ingenuity, they built their definitive schedule for flexible staff on a spreadsheet, including all the open shifts at the facility. They put in AM, PM, and NOC shifts with different positions like med techs and care staff. The facility has used the spreadsheet since the early 90s because of its reliability. 

Not only does this take a strong sense of creativity and resourcefulness, but it also takes initiative. Knowing the ins and outs of your facility, the other employees and their preferences, and a strong sense of how the facility runs. This knowledge isn't recommended; it's vital to a successful scheduler.

Stories like these pop up everywhere in healthcare. They are real people who understand the significance of their role, and they are making it work however they can.

So what are the job qualifications and responsibilities of a scheduler?

Creating an efficient yet flexible schedule for a facility takes an operational mind—one who can manage and execute a complicated program. Time management skills are drastically important because the scheduler must leave time to deal with the inevitable call-outs and other unpredictabilities. They also must constantly be aware of overtime risks and double bookings and know who has worked too many consecutive hours. Nursing roles move into the position when, really, the job requires an Operations background.

Let's move from the operational side of the position to the interpersonal side. Much like many in the industry, a very empathetic and strong communicator are two must-have traits for a scheduler. To relatably understand and accommodate other staff members doesn't just take thoughtful planning; it takes deep relationships and an understanding of each staff member.

An example of this comes from a scheduler at a skilled nursing facility who said they know which frontline staff member has kids, prefers to work on the weekends, and what days they can't work. This knowledge isn't available at any given time. This knowledge takes relationship building and rapport. Technology has reached a significant point where many jobs are optimized. The nuances of keeping staff satisfied with their schedules is something technology can't accomplish; it takes a natural person to develop genuine relationships with everyone at the facility. 

In summary, a scheduler's necessary characteristics to succeed are operational and interpersonal. They must be capable of ingenuity and problem-solving while being both accommodating and empathetic.

What needs to change?

Due to the importance and impact of a scheduler's role, the position needs more investment and support. It starts with defining the role from top to bottom. 

The job qualifications of a nurse scheduler revolve around operational strengths and interpersonal skills. These strengths and skills must be defined for the role to become more efficient. Recognizing what makes a good scheduler can make a difference in the success of who you either promote or hire to the position and should be embedded in the job qualifications. 

If these traits aren't defined, the position's turnover will be high, and the facility's efficiency will not be maximized. Investing more resources into the training and development of the role can pay huge dividends. Having visibility into the most critical aspects of the role allows you to streamline the training process. Overall, facilities must devote more time to the development of the position, whether through the qualifications of whom they hire, the understanding of what is most important, or the most effective training processes.

Support them with technology

Technology can't replace the interpersonal traits a scheduler must have to succeed. However, technology can still play a huge role. Like any other job, the hire should be set up for success, which doesn't often happen when a scheduler or staffing coordinator is brought on. 

Technology must be the tool that saves time and makes their job easier. It must optimize tasks and eliminate manual processes. It can streamline the communication between the scheduler and any potential staff, whether through a staffing agency, internal float pool, or permanent staff members. And technology can help organize and keep data, credentials, timesheets, and other important information a scheduler must have access to. 

The tedious tasks, manual processes, communication channels, and accessing important information all waste significant time. The most important job of a scheduler is keeping the facility operations running smoothly with adequate staff. Often, that means dealing with last-minute changes. A constant flow of obstacles, complications, and problems is consistent with any healthcare facility. Using their operational knowledge and personal relationships, the schedulers are tasked with putting out these "fires" and ensuring the facility runs smoothly. 

Leveraging a purpose-built platform that allows them to focus on these far more important duties is incredibly important for the health and well-being of the staff and patients of their facility.

Invest in your scheduler

The state of healthcare staffing is by no means healthy. The staffing shortage has put facilities at risk, and operational costs are at their highest. Every healthcare facility has room for improvement, and investing in the scheduler role can positively impact an organization on multiple levels. A higher level of efficiency means a higher level of patient care. Investing in technologies makes less costly mistakes and improved satisfaction possible. You must support and invest in the scheduler role if you want your facility to operate at its best.

Have we convinced you? We offer a platform designed to optimize the standard workflows of your scheduler, make them more efficient, and save you on staffing costs. Contact Kevala at and learn how you can truly invest in your scheduler and help improve the daily operations of your healthcare facility.

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