1. McCartney, Patricia PhD, RN, FAAN

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Not surprisingly, scheduling is a frequent thread on any nursing discussion list. Now, however, there is a new twist to scheduling. The Internet and advancing software technology have enabled an electronic approach to schedule nurses to fill shift vacancies, commonly referred to as "bidding for shifts." Nurses bid an hourly pay rate to work open shifts, as in an auction, except in this case the lowest bid wins!! Although this might seem new to some of you, manual bidding for open shifts at preestablished rates is actually not a new concept, as paper posts of open shifts have long existed in nursing as well as in many other occupations, including public service employees and unionized workers. What is new is the online medium for multiple instantaneous bids at variable rates. Commercial software for scheduling is a fast-growing market, with several products specifically designed for electronic bidding. The goal of bidding is to fill vacant shifts more efficiently by reducing the burden on managers of scheduling, reducing the use of expensive agency nurses, and decreasing the rate of shift vacancies and mandatory overtime. I will summarize comments from the Internet and several discussion lists on how nurses from New York to California are using this system, including pediatric, neonatal, and obstetric units.


How Online Bidding Works

Agencies using online bidding have established policies posted on the Web site so all users are informed.


* Managers post all open shifts to a central location on an Internet or intranet secure Web site, which nurses can only access with a user ID and password.


* The nurse bids on a shift and pay rate and is notified if another nurse bids a lower rate.


* When the bidding period is closed, managers notify the winning bidder.



An acceptable pay range for bidding is identified, beginning with a maximum incentive rate that is substantially above the nursing base rate. Every report I read stated a nurse cannot bid below his or her own regular pay rate. Bidding is not used for regularly scheduled hours and if the bid shift creates over 40 hours of work per week for the nurse, the nurse earns an overtime rate. Nurses must be credentialed to work in the areas they bid on, and some programs only allow the nurse to view the shifts he or she actually qualifies for working. In most cases, only agency employees can bid on shifts. Some programs accept outside nurses who have filed an application and completed competence testing and orientation.


The American Nurses Association cautions that bidding is not an effective long-term solution to a shortage of permanent staff and that any staffing tool should only be implemented with nurses' input.


What Nurses Say About Online Bidding

Proponents of electronic bidding agree that the system saves managers' time, avoids waking nurses up at home, and reduces vacancies without use of mandatory overtime. Various online reports claim decreases in vacancies of well over 50% and monthly savings of thousands of dollars. Staff nurses state that the system provides scheduling choice and flexibility as well as access from home at any hour. The central display of open shifts on all units (that nurses may not have otherwise been aware of) alonly be implemented with nurses' input (Trossman, 2004).


Can online bidding work in your setting? Since there is little information in the nursing literature, search the Internet for testimonials, appraisals, and software. Contact a few vendors and arrange for staff to view a product demonstration. Also, it would be great if someone studied this phenomenon, examined outcomes for patients and nurses, and published their results for the rest of us.




Trossman, S. (2004). Move over eBay? A potential trend involving bidding for shifts online. American Nurse, 36 (3), 1, 8, 12. [Context Link]