The Four Hurdles of Resident Scheduling


Efficient physician scheduling for academic medical centers is an essential part of managing a residency program, but it often presents significant challenges for program managers and schedulers. Let’s explore four common scheduling hurdles faced during the resident scheduling process.

Incorporating Program Requirements and Restrictions

Residency schedules have to account for a number of requirements and considerations, making the scheduling process a challenge for program administrators. Independent program requirements, specific constraints and rules, and factors like regulations from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) must be taken into account. Because of this complexity, building residency schedules by hand often results in errors, gaps, and imbalances among residents and shifts.

Balancing Workloads and Schedule Equity

Creating balanced schedules is crucial for promoting resident wellness and avoiding perceptions of favoritism. Unequal distribution of shifts can lead to dissatisfaction among residents and negatively impact morale. The problem is that achieving workload balance and fairness when building a schedule manually is both challenging and time consuming. While resident schedules are known to be demanding and offer little flexibility, schedulers can do their part to alleviate this stress by making sure no one is shouldering an uneven burden.

Engaging Residents in the Scheduling Process

Effective communication and resident engagement are key to optimized scheduling. As one example, most residency programs offer anywhere from four to six weeks of vacation.1 Allowing residents to communicate their time-off preferences gives them more control over their schedule and ensures their vacation time is properly accounted for in advance. When a scheduler is trying to manually reference each resident’s time-off requests and shift preferences—while also accounting for last-minute changes that pop up—the process becomes cumbersome and the likelihood of mistakes increases significantly. It’s a lot for one person to handle, and it’s almost impossible to get it right the first time. Especially since the majority of residents expressed that the pandemic had a negative impact on their clinical experience,2 it’s important for schedulers to have tools to boost resident satisfaction by approving time-off requests as much as possible.

Managing Resident Supply and Demand

Smooth shift transitions and appropriate staffing are vital for delivering quality care and maintaining positive patient experiences. Building a proper schedule means ensuring that the right people—and the right number of people—are in the right place at the right time to take care of a given facility’s patients. The same concept applies to resident schedules; when residents are scheduled appropriately and given adequate supervision—like ensuring a resident is working with the correct attending—patients may experience improved outcomes.3

Overcome Scheduling Challenges with Automated Technology

Scheduling challenges in resident programs can be overcome by leveraging the right tools and strategies. Implementing automated scheduling software can be the first step in streamlining the schedule-building process, ensuring compliance with program requirements while reducing administrative burden. Technology like this can: 

  • Distribute shifts, on-call duties, and patient loads more equitably
  • Alleviate scheduling frustrations to foster a more positive work environment for residents
  • Allow residents to be active participants in the scheduling process
  • Allocate the right number of providers for each shift based on demand
  • Notify program managers if scheduling rules are violated, such as a resident whose hour limit has been exceeded or an inappropriate attending assignment
  • Effectively manage resident workloads even during challenging shift changes and handovers

Embracing technology and effective communication makes the scheduling process more efficient, reducing frustration and ensuring resident programs run smoothly. Download our Residency Scheduling Guide for a detailed look at how an optimized resident scheduling solution like Lightning Bolt can help schedulers overcome these common hurdles.


1 How medical residents can make the most of their time off, AMA:

2 COVID-19 Pandemic and the Lived Experience of Surgical Residents, Fellows, and Early-Career Surgeons in the American College of Surgeons, National Library of Medicine:

3 A systematic review of the effects of residency training on patient outcomes, BMC medicine:

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