Schedulers: The Superheroes of Work-Life Balance

By Nicole Ervast, Business Development Associate

As a member of an ED staffing company not directly involved in the staffing itself, I’ve always been intrigued and impressed with the stories I hear of the endless struggle that is scheduling. Our scheduling team of 4.5 people (don’t ask me where that .5 comes from) staffs over a dozen EDs 24/7/365, making sure that no patient is left unseen. So, in an indirect but important way, they helping to save lives. Ergo, they are basically superheroes. But invisible ones–they never introduce themselves to patients, they don’t have any contact with patients, and patients don’t thank them after they receive care. Like Professor X, they operate in the background, using only the power of their minds and excellent communication skills.

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with two of our schedulers, Daniel Haggerty and Clark McGee, about how they are able to create a balance between covering all shifts, every hour of every day for each ED, and enabling a culture of work-life balance for an increasingly limited resource: physicians. Here is what they had to say.

As schedulers, what are some ways you help providers maintain work-life balance?

Daniel: We try to be equitable with the schedules as much as possible. We like to have providers work a fair share of weekends. We also do not like to schedule “flips” if we can avoid it. For example, if a provider works an am shift on Monday and then “flips” to a pm on Tuesday, this usually means that they are out of commission for 3 days and their biological clock goes off balance, which can obviously lead to added stress. We also give the providers opportune time to request off the dates they need for family time, personal life, other commitments, etc. If we know that we are going to put a provider in a bind, we always explore all other options before asking the provider to ruin this work-life balance. The more work-life balance our providers have, the more work-life balance the Schedulers have!

Clark: Schedulers do everything in their power to ensure a healthy work-life balance, but every provider has different preferences and limits.  A scheduler has to spend a lot of time understanding the preferred scheduling habits of the providers so that they can anticipate what will be the optimal and most realistic work schedule.  If a provider is coming from out of town, they typically prefer to utilize as much time as possible to work to maximize their income potential.  If a provider is local, they generally prefer to spread out their shifts to maximize their time at home.  What the scheduler has to do is create a realistic balance in the hours worked in a set time frame, keeping in mind that adequate rest is necessary and that certain facilities may put more strain on the physician.

When you notice a provider is doing a ton of shifts, or many shifts in a row, is there a protocol to back them off a bit to assure they get adequate rest?

Daniel: It really depends on the strength of the individual provider. Some providers only feel comfortable working two shifts in a row, while others are willing to do more. It also depends on the volume of the facility. We do scale back providers from working too many in a row, sometimes despite their wishes. Despite our demanding scheduling needs, this is often a necessity, due to the benefit and well-being of the patients, the provider, and our relationships with our clients and the communities they serve.

Clark: There are a couple factors that go into answering this question:

  1. Volume – what is a realistic and safe number of hours/shifts for a provider to work
  2. Preference – most providers are cognizant of their own capabilities, and they know the situation better than we do

With those considerations in mind, we try to prevent providers from working more than they can handle.  Some providers do not have the best grasp on their limits, so we may go against their preferences. This is not just because we are looking out for the provider’s well-being, but also the safety of the patients, the effect it could have on the hospital staff, and the relationship with our client. When we are in a situation where we need to scale someone back, we also analyze how we arrived at the predicament so we can avoid future occurrences.

Have you ever had a provider tell you they are burned out and ask to not work for a period of time? How did/do you respond?

Daniel: Yes. When this happens, the provider usually requests off a certain number of dates to recuperate. Many of our providers have gone above and beyond the “call of duty” when the Scheduling Team is in a jam. We certainly do not take them for granted. We are on the same team to accomplish the same goal, so we are mindful of the needs of our providers. Once you have an in-depth look into the providers’ personal lives, their families, etc, the providers are no longer just a name on a schedule, but a Keystone Team Member.

Clark: In all honesty, I have not been in the position where a provider has told me they feel burn out, but that isn’t to say I won’t in the future.  I have been scheduling for two years and count myself lucky *knocks on wood* that none of my providers have communicated feeling the symptoms. It is my opinion that successful schedulers must have a genuine ability to care for others, and in this case the providers. We play a huge part in sculpting their livelihood, and prevention is more important than solution.  I believe the strength of the Keystone Schedulers is that we think first and foremost that our providers are people with stuff going on in their lives, just like us. In order for everyone to remain safe, happy, and healthy, we have to do our best to make sure we do not allow providers to suffer from burn out, but also must proactively address it at the first sign of symptoms.