A nurse sitting outside scrolling through her phone looking for flexible nursing shifts.

Healthcare staffing is quite the conundrum these days. The nursing shortage has created a domino effect that erodes nurse well-being, compromises patient outcomes, and undermines hospital bottom lines. As a result, many health systems are cutting ties with conventionality and unlocking a new paradigm of efficiency, resilience, and excellence by embracing flexible staffing models.

Here are eight reasons flexible staffing models are vital in healthcare:

1. Address Fluctuating Demand

Healthcare demand can vary significantly due to factors like seasonal illnesses, unexpected surges in patient volume, or changes in population demographics. Flexible staffing models enable healthcare organizations to quickly adjust their workforce to meet these fluctuations in demand without compromising patient care.

2. Maintain Care Standards

Patients experience longer wait times, receive less attention at the bedside, and face a higher risk of medical errors when there aren't enough nurses available. Flexible staffing models ensure healthcare organizations maintain appropriate staffing levels to uphold quality care standards, even during worker shortages.

3. Optimize Resource Utilization

Burnout and high turnover rates among healthcare workers, particularly nurses, are significant challenges in the industry. Flexible staffing models can help alleviate these issues by providing opportunities for nurses to have more control over their schedules, achieve a better work-life balance, and reduce fatigue from working long hours or overtime shifts.

4. Reduce Nurse Turnover

Burnout and high turnover rates among healthcare workers, particularly nurses, are significant challenges in the industry. Flexible staffing models can help alleviate these issues by providing opportunities for nurses to have more control over their schedules, achieve a better work-life balance, and reduce fatigue from working long hours or overtime shifts.

5. Address Skills Gaps

Healthcare organizations can build a more versatile workforce capable of addressing a wide range of patient needs and clinical scenarios by accommodating different scheduling preferences and offering cross-training opportunities. Flexible staffing models enable healthcare organizations to tap into a broader talent pool with diverse skills and backgrounds.

6. Cut Travel Nurse Costs

Healthcare organizations can reduce their dependency on costly travel nurses by using flexible staffing models to fill scheduling gaps. Unlike traditional staffing approaches that lock organizations into fixed commitments, flexible staffing doesn't involve long-term contracts, allowing organizations to align their staffing costs with patient census and operational demands.

7. Reduce Overtime Hours

Healthcare organizations can rely on flexible nursing staff when internal full-time employees reach unsafe (and expensive) overtime hours, resulting in quality care continuity and reduced labor costs.

8. Boost New-Hire Training

Many healthcare organizations struggle to integrate newly graduated nurses into professional practice effectively. Experienced nurses are overwhelmed with heavy workloads, leaving little time for training recruits. This predicament strains organizational resources and leaves novice nurses feeling frustrated and ill-prepared for their roles. By using flexible nursing staff for clinical support, organizations can have their experienced nurses devote more time to onboarding new nurses.

A nurse and healthcare executive walk out of a meeting discussing fluctuations in patient demand.

Flexible Nurse Staffing Options

Generally speaking, flexible staffing is a game-changer in managing healthcare workforce dynamics, ensuring staffing levels align with demand so patients receive the best possible care at all times. Here are some standard flexible nurse staffing options in healthcare:

Per Diem Nurses

Per diem nurses, or gig workers, cover shifts on a part-time or as-needed basis, filling in for absent staff or providing support during periods of increased patient volume. They provide flexibility without the long-term commitment of full-time employees. A health system or an agency can employ these nurses.

Nurse Staffing Agency

Staffing agencies are intermediaries between healthcare organizations and nurses seeking temporary, travel, or permanent employment. Staffing agencies recruit and hire nurses and assign them to fill scheduling gaps at healthcare facilities needing clinical support.

Float Pools

Float pools consist of internal nursing staff working within various hospital units as needed. They help prevent staffing shortages during peak demand periods like flu season, maintaining high patient care standards.

Flex Pools

A flex pool allows internal staff to move across departments, often receiving higher compensation. Ideal for multi-facility or multi-location healthcare systems, it provides flexibility for both experienced and newer nurses. It offers control over schedules and skill development across departments and helps manage increased patient volumes.

Hospitals using flex pools as part of their overall staffing management plan save 2% to 5% on nursing labor costs, the most significant portion of hospital expenses.

On Demand Healthcare

On-demand healthcare is all the above flexible staffing options wrapped into one dynamic modern workforce solution that promotes operational efficiency, reduces labor costs, and improves patient outcomes. Healthcare organizations can access per diem nurses on demand, expand their internal float pools, establish an external pool of local, credentialed nurses for additional support, and use technology to prioritize internal staff before using external resources to fill shifts.

According to this ScienceDirect article on flexible nurse staffing, the buffer capacity required to protect against random demand fluctuations can lead to overstaffing when hospitals only employ dedicated nurses. However, when two or more units cooperate by jointly appointing a flexible nurse pool, the variability of random fluctuations balances out due to economies of scale, requiring less buffer capacity.

A nurse scrolls through the ShiftMed nursing jobs app to build a flexible work schedule.

ShiftMed Is On Demand Healthcare

ShiftMed empowers hospitals and health systems to take complete control of their workforce dynamics. No matter your healthcare staffing needs, we have a customized product to remove your reliance on agencies, boost your operational efficiency, and reduce your labor costs.

ShiftMed Flex

Use our mobile app technology customized with your branding to address staffing gaps and reduce overtime. Intelligent routing leverages your internal staff first and our on demand labor second, prioritizing the most cost-effective resources available. The technology seamlessly integrates with your existing scheduling, payroll, and HRIS platforms with minimal, if any, IT support.

ShiftMed On Demand

Utilize our W-2 healthcare workforce marketplace to broaden your float pool, decrease travel nurse dependence, and effortlessly fill shifts with local, credentialed healthcare professionals on demand. Beyond filling scheduling gaps, you can use our marketplace as a bridge-to-hire solution, nurturing potential candidates and seamlessly transitioning them to permanent positions with no buyout fee.

ShiftMed Unlimited Network

Experience 100%* shift fulfillment via the world's first digital MSP that provides free access to more than 1,000 agencies from a single interface and helps you better manage your labor expenses through a single, reconciled invoice. The network uses mobile app technology and a cloud-based platform to ensure every facet of your contingent healthcare workforce operates at peak performance.

*Percentage in tier A markets when shifts are posted in advance with market competitive rates.


The future of healthcare staffing lies in embracing flexibility, adaptability, and innovation. By doing so, organizations can navigate the challenges of staffing shortages, fluctuating demand, and budget constraints while maintaining the highest standards of patient care. Flexible staffing isn't a trend but a vital component of modern healthcare operations, ensuring that healthcare professionals can deliver excellence in care.

Book a free demo today to see what a customized, flexible staffing model from ShiftMed can do for you!

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