Clinical Labs: The Scheduling Game

Vol. 15 •Issue 5 • Page 19

The scheduling process for the clinical laboratory is one that we all take for granted. That is, no one notices the schedule unless something goes wrong with it. The schedule is, in fact, a high-maintenance process that rarely satisfies everyone. Yet a good scheduling person-one who knows how to play the game-can make all the difference for employee and client satisfaction.

As a child of the ’60s-and one that watched too much television-here is my perspective on the process. I am sure you’ll be familiar with the lingo, as references from old TV shows are scattered throughout.

Making Deals

Though challenging, the scheduling process does have its good points. In many ways our personal and professional lives revolve around it. We calculate the total number of hours we work each pay period and plan our financial spending. We also look ahead to try and plan for the big events in our lives. Some individuals, for example, are willing to work a little bit extra the week before rent or mortgage payments are due, when planning for a big vacation, around the holidays, or when a large expense is on the horizon. Tuition payments, a home improvement project and braces for a child all come to mind. This type of planning is personally and professionally advantageous; it’s a good way to financially “beat the clock” while having quality coverage in the lab.

Often, the monthly scheduler has to be like Monty Hall. When the core schedule framework is complete, it becomes time to gather the staff and say, “Let’s make a deal.” When rounding out the schedule and making sure you have the right skill mix, you often have to play the “match game,” making sure that you have experienced people in every laboratory area. Sometimes the “Joker is wild” when you are trying to match skill sets with personality traits. For obvious reasons, hospital labs must have every shift covered or they could put the lab and patient safety in “jeopardy.”

Balancing Your Life

Scheduling is usually the task that no one wants, but if you are flexible and don’t mind change, you can use the scheduling game to your advantage. Let’s face it-there is a “wheel of fortune” out there waiting for us if we are willing to work for it. Off-shifts, nights and weekends are the hardest to fill, so incentive bonuses to work those shifts are often offered. As these shifts seem to be readily available, you can sometimes negotiate a bonus for working them, taking a “price is right” approach.

You must be careful, however, when covering extra shifts. Even though the extra money is appealing, make sure that you or your team doesn’t over do it. People that work too much are subject to fatigue. You certainly don’t want any of your staff to make a mistake or suffer from stress and other ailments from the change in schedule and additional hours, in some cases. Fatigue is a factor; you have to have a strong level of “concentration” at all times.

Don Newton, MS, MT(ASMT), is laboratory director, HEALTHSOUTH, Braintree, MA.

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