July 18, 2018

How to Create a Surgical Staffing Strategy

3 min read

Written by: Jennifer Michelle  |  Share:


Set Goals for Your Surgical Staffing Strategy

Staffing your surgical team effectively begins with defining your goals. For many healthcare organizations, staffing is done according to a legacy system that may or may not be producing the best results. Rarely is the staffing strategy looked at with an eye to making improvements, so habits and assumptions have ample time to become a standard part of the process.

For most practices, goals fall into three categories: efficiency, cost-reduction and staff morale. These will mean different things to different practices, so you need to get specific about what you are looking for.

In regards to efficiency, are you trying to reduce patient turnover time? Are you trying to keep your procedures from running over? Do you want to fit more procedures into the day, or give new surgeons more time in the OR?

In regards to costs, are you trying to reduce idle time for your operating rooms and your team? Are you trying to contain overtime? Do you want to reduce undertime? Do you want to see if you are overstaffing for your needs?

In regards to staff morale, do you want to make fairer call schedules? Do you want to distribute overtime more equitably amongst the team? Do you want to make time tracking easier on the staff?

Regardless of your goals, base your choices on the evidence. Gather data from staff schedules, EHR, time tracking and payroll systems.


Making the most of your resources, including rooms, equipment and staff, is always a desirable strategy.

To address efficiency goals, look over your historical data to see how your needs vary throughout the day and by season. The easiest and most effective way to take control of staffing efficiency is through an automated staff scheduling tool. These tools make it easy to collect and interpret your data.

Look for solutions that can integrate with your EHR to pull in patient demand data, so you can schedule according to the upcoming patient case load. With that data in the system, you can ensure the right skill mix is available for every case. Automated staff scheduling solutions are also far more effective than manual methods at guaranteeing all quotas, clinical rules and facility and union policies are enforced.


Reduced reimbursements have made a focus on cost reduction critical to all surgical teams.

Yet, the disparate systems healthcare organizations have for housing their data make it nearly impossible to access and use the data effectively. For instance, data on staff utilization may come from staff schedules, time tracking and payroll systems, which rarely work together.

To see what cost-reduction options would work best for your surgical staff, you need a workforce optimization tool that can help you pull the necessary information into one place. This type of tool can give you insight, for instance, into who is currently going into overtime, who is being underutilized and what the costs are associated with both. If you are looking at costs associated with room utilization, look for a tool that provides daily schedules using a room layout. These make it easy to see when and where rooms are being underutilized.

Remember, however you choose to access this information, it cannot exist solely in the bowels of your computer. These data need to be available to your managers when and where they need it. For instance, when your in-charge nurse is deciding who to send home, they need a real-time dashboard of overtime and undertime to guide them in that decision, not a pile of reports to sift through.

Staff Morale

Staff morale is highly correlated to feelings of having control over the day and being treated fairly at work.

In regards to staffing strategies, there are several options to consider. For instance, would self-scheduling work with your team? Practices can let providers self-schedule by requesting days off or swapping for preferred call shifts.

Fairness often comes up in discussions about call schedules. Only very small practices are able to fairly distribute call shifts manually; larger practices require an automated system. Ideally, you want a solution that statistically balances call across the year for your providers and lets you adjust for differences in call shift stress levels. The same goes for overtime - an automated system can keep track of everybody's overtime, including expected overtime from upcoming assignments.

If time tracking is needed but not popular with your physicians, consider having them only clock out. This is more attractive than having to punch a clock to start the day. It also helps ensure your doctors get their incentive pay, which becomes a motivator for clocking out. Alternatively, consider having the in-charge manager clock your doctors out.

Surgical Staffing Strategy Success

No matter your staffing goals, make sure you have access to the data you need, where you need it. If you have to manually compile reports from three different systems, it is unlikely that you will be able to stay on top of your goals. So, priority number one is getting a tool or system that can pull your data together and make it easy to use.

Once you have your data, look at it with fresh eyes. Pay extra attention to anything that falls in the category of "how it's always been" and make sure those methods are really helping you achieve your goals.

Lastly, space out your goals. You cannot tackle everything at once, so prioritize which goals are most important and take it from there.

Define your goals, review your data and set a reasonable time frame. Regardless of whether your goals emphasize efficiency, cost-reduction or staff morale, that is the best way to set your team up for success.


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