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Innovation in Nurse Scheduling: A Nurse's Foray into AI and Entrepreneurship

4 min readLaurel Chiaramonte, MSN, RN

As a fresh-faced nurse eager to make a difference, I dove headfirst into the challenges of bedside nursing on a small medical/surgical unit. About a year in, my manager asked me to help her write the schedule. Little did I know, this was one of the most time-consuming and frustrating tasks she experienced as a manager. With a modest floor of 20 beds and around 50 nurses working 24/7 shifts, crafting a schedule was an ordeal. Everyone wrote their appointments and PTO on a blank spreadsheet, and I had to craft 12-hour shifts around those. No big deal, right? Wrong.

What seemed straightforward quickly escalated into a daunting task. Writing that 28-day schedule took me more than my 12-hour shift—my manager had to pay another nurse to come in to cover my assignment. Each shift required specific certifications and licensures, a qualified charge nurse, and must ensure an adequate mix of experienced and new nurses. For that small floor, there were over 7,000 variables to consider every time I wrote a schedule! It was painful and exhausting! Every schedule I produced, good or bad, seemed to displease someone, leading to perceptions of bias and grumblings of overall dissatisfaction among the staff.

An AI Solution

Enter my husband, knee-deep in his PhD studies in Industrial Engineering, specializing in organizational efficiency. Through his expertise and a knack for coding, he developed an AI-powered scheduling program that revolutionized our workflow. By leveraging “a series of combinatorial algorithms” (← I don’t even know what that means), the program automated the scheduling process, considering organizational requirements, individual staff needs, and preferences. The AI considers thousands of potential solutions and picks the best one… in less than an hour.

The impact was profound:

  • Efficiency: What used to take me over 12 hours now took two minutes
  • Staff Satisfaction: Nurses reported a 56% improvement in their satisfaction with the schedule
  • Bias Reduction: Perceived bias decreased by 30%
  • Cost Savings: The hospital saved approximately $300 per week in labor costs.

This AI solution wasn't just another scheduling tool; it was a personalized system that caters to each nurse's preferences, optimizing both employee satisfaction and organizational efficiency. It’s a legitimate and 100% personalized schedule for 100% of nurses, 100% of the time... and it's FAST!

A person with long brown hair is facing a black bulletin board which is full of dozens of colorful notes which are organized into rows and columns.

Addressing the Effects of Scheduling Challenges

In healthcare, where nurses are the backbone of patient care, workforce management challenges have long plagued the industry. High turnover rates and burnout are rampant, costing facilities millions annually and jeopardizing patient outcomes. Traditional scheduling methods not only consume valuable time but also contribute to dissatisfaction and disengagement among staff. Turnover rates among nurses in the United States surpass 20% annually; at an average “replacement cost” of $44,000 to $80,000 this translates to a staggering loss of $440,000 annually per facility. Multiply that across the healthcare sector: nurse turnover alone costs the U.S. a staggering $30 billion annually… and that doesn't include the indirect cost of poor patient outcomes associated with constantly training new nurses.

Effective nurse leadership is paramount in addressing these challenges. However, managers often find themselves bogged down by administrative tasks like scheduling, leaving little time for mentorship and support. There's a pressing need for innovative systems that support both nurses and their leaders.

Our algorithm directly addresses these needs by:

  • Empowering nurses with control over their schedules, fostering work-life balance
  • Facilitating long-term mentorship opportunities to enhance nurse engagement
  • Allowing nurse managers to focus on leadership and support by streamlining scheduling tasks
  • Maximizing resource utilization and minimizing costs through intelligent scheduling
  • Providing actionable insights for leaders to optimize staffing and improve patient care.
  • Offering seamless replacement staff recommendations to mitigate burnout and maintain continuity of care.

My journey as a nurse entrepreneur began with a recognition of a problem and the collaboration with an unlikely partner—my basement-dwelling computer-nerd. Nurses are natural change agents, driven by a desire to improve processes and outcomes. As we continue to innovate and challenge the status quo, we pave the way for a brighter future in healthcare.

So, if you're faced with a challenge, seek out those who can help you solve it, embrace innovation, and drive change. The road ahead may be challenging, but as nurses, we're uniquely positioned to make it happen. Let's embrace the possibilities and revolutionize healthcare, one algorithm at a time.

Images sourced from Adobe Creative Cloud

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