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Your Captain Speaking: Smooth Scheduling

“Samantha, I know it’s nine months away, but I put in for time off in September for EMS World Expo. What’s your schedule look like?”

Since before the days of the Roman Legions, supervisors have struggled to fill their schedules. As paramedics we constantly juggle our schedules as well, as priorities shift around almost daily.

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t struggled to have their schedule changed to meet their needs? Here are some guidelines for both supervisors developing schedules as well as the folks who fill them.

Let ’Em Go

Get some training! Here’s how most people start as schedulers: “Here’s the scheduling book.” Boom, that’s it. Little to no training on the rules, little to no written guidance, and mistakes made while learning the trade.

Play the long game, not the short. Some managers only consider the next 24 hours and ignore longer-term issues. Last-minute schedule problems should not be a surprise

Bid what you want and want what you bid. In both the airline industry and EMS, we have seniority systems for bidding for workdays or time off. In some situations you bid to work specific days, while other times you might need days off as a priority. One thing is certain: Having the rules for bidding clearly laid out reduces tension on both sides.

These rules for bidding cannot be just handed out and expected to work. Training and explanation with examples must be included. A set of rules may be misunderstood by either management or workers. Disconnects of these interpretations can lead to significant angry feelings.

Supervisors need to be consistent. Admit it, you’ve waited to call in to request a schedule change from a more sympathetic supervisor when the one currently working the desk has not been as helpful.

Plan in advance. A sure way to turn a good employee into a distrustful or resentful one is this: A medic goes to their supervisor and asks for some specific days off—say, to attend EMS World Expo in September—and is approved. The medic has signed up in advance for conference events that match their interests and will close out their CEU requirements. Their request is made within the scheduling rules. However, when the September schedule is later created, the medic is told that due to staffing needs, their trip must be cancelled. This could be a failure of the supervisors to plan ahead and proactively anticipate the staffing needs. If this happens as a supervisor, you just need to let ’em go to the conference even if it hurts on the local front.

Scheduling must be blind. We’re human and have likes and dislikes, but these need to be put aside when formulating the schedule. Favorable schedules must be awarded according to the rules set out and not based on favoritism.

Balance experience: Putting two inexperienced EMTs on the same ambulance can be a core cause of an incident. There are many times I’d rather work with someone else, but as professionals we need to suck it up, put on a happy face, and go to work.

“Line-of-sight” scheduling is an understandable solution and path of least resistance but an overall bad practice. Say there’s an opening in the schedule and someone is walking by the office, so the supervisor asks if they can work. Someone who wants to work more will be sure to stop by often! On the other hand, some people will actively avoid supervisors in case they might be asked to work open shifts. It is not a good long-term situation when workers avoid supervisors. Line-of-sight scheduling can also cause overtime pay to get out of control.

Stability in the schedule benefits everyone. People will better know when it’s their shift and show up for work. If the schedule is a moving target, even good workers will get confused and anxious about when they can plan to be off duty. They can plan birthday parties or family events, but if there is little confidence they will be able to attend, it can be enough to lose an otherwise good worker.

Shift swapping is often a short-term fix that results in more problems. It starts with someone who very much needs off for a certain day and is happy and appreciative but often does not want to fulfill their side of the arrangement. Now there’s an open shift and hard feelings.


It’s not too late to take control of the schedule. Training of supervisors is a good place to start. Sometimes an employee will play one supervisor against another. It’s a complex game and only works if supervisors are not talking to each other. Training on the schedule also extends to the EMTs.

If a worker advises you of a time-off requirement and you’ve approved it, let ’em go. Start by putting in for EMS World Expo in September and collect the CEUs. It’s an amazing experience.

Dick Blanchet (ret)., BS, MBA, worked as a paramedic for Abbott EMS in St. Louis, Mo., and Illinois for more than 22 years. He was also a captain with Atlas Air for 22 years and an Air Force pilot for 22 years.

Samantha Greene has been a paramedic, field training officer, and operations supervisor for Abbott EMS of Illinois for the last 10 years and a lieutenant for the Madison, Ill., Fire Department for the last five.


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