A two-stage heuristic approach for nurse scheduling problem: a case study in an emergency department

T. C. Wong, M. Xu, K. S. Chin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)
598 Downloads (Pure)


Nurse scheduling is a critical issue in the management of emergency department. Under the intense work environment, it is imperative to make quality nurse schedules in a most cost and time effective way. To this end, a spreadsheet-based two-stage heuristic approach is proposed for the nurse scheduling problem (NSP) in a local emergency department. First, an initial schedule satisfying all hard constraints is generated by the simple shift assignment heuristic. Second, the sequential local search algorithm is employed to improve the initial schedules by taking soft constraints (nurse preferences) into account. The proposed approach is benchmarked with the existing approach and 0-1 programming. The contribution of this paper is twofold. First, it is one of a few studies in nurse scheduling literature using heuristic approach to generate nurse schedules based on Excel spreadsheet. Therefore, users with little knowledge on linear programming and computer sciences can operate and change the scheduling algorithms easily. Second, while most studies on nurse scheduling are situated in hospitals, this paper attempts to bridge the research gap by investigating the NSP in the emergency department where the scheduling rules are much more restrictive due to the intense and dynamic work environment. Overall, our approach generates satisfactory schedules with higher level of user-friendliness, efficiency, and flexibility of rescheduling as compared to both the existing approach and 0-1 programming.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-110
Number of pages12
JournalComputers & Operations Research
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014


  • 0-1 programming
  • emergency department
  • excel
  • heuristics
  • nurse scheduling
  • case study


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