Float Pools for Hospitals and Care Providers – An Explainer (Plus: How to Turn Yours into a Success)

Helena Kleine

Once again, you have no time off. Once again, you need to fill in for someone at short notice. If you are a carer or nurse, calls from the hospital will regularly mean giving up your well-deserved leisure time. When there are staff shortages, schedules need to be amended quickly. This leads to stress for the entire ward, as it takes some time until the much needed help arrives, and until then, team members who are on sight will have to take over the additional work.


However, some hospitals have found a model which allows for more predictable scheduling for their nurses and carers while still enabling wards to respond spontaneously to unplanned absences or a heavy workload. This magic bullet is called a float pool.


We will look at the model in detail and shed light on the following: 


  • What exactly is a float pool
  • Advantages and disadvantages
  • Compensation
  • Testimonials
  • Tips on scheduling with a float pool


And here we go.

What Exactly Is a Float Pool and How Does It Work? 


As opposed to workers in the hospitality industry, float nurses who are part of a pool within a hospital are not at home and waiting for a call that tells them whether they are needed or not. Instead, just like any other nurse, they are usually part of a schedule. However, during their regular working times, their place of work varies. Float nurses are spontaneously assigned to whichever ward needs them the most.


Sometimes they have an "anchor ward" - for example the ward where they were originally trained or where they normally spend the majority of their time. They will only be "lent" to other parts of the hospital if necessary. The float pool model is particularly beneficial if staff are not completely reassigned day by day, but can spend several days or even weeks within the same team. 


What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Float Pool? 


How comfortable float nurses are in their role is largely dependent on the implementation of the float pool in the hospital where they work. Generally, there are the following advantages and disadvantages: 



Advantages float pool

Disadvantages float pool

For hospitals

  • More flexibility
  • Employee satisfaction (no calls during free time)
  • Knowledge exchange between wards
  • Scheduling float nurses can be complicated

For nurses/carers

  • Gaining insights into different areas and working methods
  • Compensation
  • Scheduling is certain
  • Getting to know different teams
  • Low sense of identification
  • Limited ability to further specialised knowledge
  • Training period in every ward
  • Constant adjusting to new working methods, processes and co-workers


While the list of disadantages for employees is long, the frequent change of wards and the insights they gain into new areas of expertise and working methods are a great asset to them. (Read further to find out more about personal experience).


How about Compensation - Do Float Nurses Earn More?


Yes, if it goes well. Nurses and carers should be compensated for the additional burden created by constant training in new wards and the higher skill level required for this. 

Float nurses


"Every hospital has different pay structures for nurses. However, it is not uncommon to see float pool nurses make a higher hourly wage than their permanently assigned counterparts."



Aside from additional payment, float nurses are sometimes given more say when it comes to staff scheduling. They can, for example, refuse night shifts completely. However, it is up to each hospital individually how they structure and organise their float pool. 


It is advisable to create incentives by increasing pay and giving more desirable shifts, particularly when a float pool is first introduced.


Testimonials from Float Nurses - This Is What They Say


We have looked at some forums to find testimonials (such as these) from people who have experienced working in a float pool model first hand. The overalle tone is mixed, but most seem to have found the experience positive. 


One testimonial reads:

"The float pool nurse has to be always ready to go to any assigned floor and perform nursing within their scope of practice. They are usually the 'gem' of the floor because they are always on the floor to save the crises situation that may have come up due to the shortage of staff on the floor."

And another:

"Enjoyed floating to different units and learning the nursing care on each. Management did support the float pool staff and gave kudos when due."

However, there are also critical voices, such as this review:

"Took float pool position for flexibility as it was nice to be able to work my own schedule. No benefits and often was sent home when scheduled to work due to low census. Poor communication between nurse manager, house manager, and myself which also resulted in being sent home after making the 30 min. commute to the hospital. Nurse to patient ration was not optimal."

This underlines the following observation: float pools are great, as long as they are implemented well. The following are some of the most common counterpoints: 

  • No time for proper training
  • Float nurses can be taken advantage of if they do not understand and know the ward well
  • Lack of integration into the team

Let us now come to our last point: how do you schedule float nurses? Can scheduling maybe even help to avoid the problems described here and create a positive outcome for both wards and float nurses? 


Float Pool Scheduling - What Needs to Be Considered? 


One of the most frequently brought up points of criticism concerns the confusion of float nurses who have trouble adjusting to a new ward. To address this issue and to ensure that your scheduling is a success, we have compiled some tips: 


Clear communication

To ensure that float nurses can attune themselves to what they are doing in the next days or weeks, they should be informed of their assignments with plenty of notice time and in a straightforward manner. If they don't know where they will be working until the morning of each day, this leads to unnecessary stress.

To make communication between all parties as smooth as possible, a suitable system is needed (see last paragraph). 

Taking personal preferences into account

Additonally, it is helpful to address personal preferences (favourite wards, co-workers). Most nurses and care workers will have such preferences and should be given the opportunity to voice them. 

Considering qualifications

It should be obvious, but not every nurse has the right qualifications for each ward. It is therefore of particular importance that the right float nurse is picked for areas such as the operation theatre or intensive care.

Float nurses qualifications

Aside from those qualifications which are absolutely necessary, their experience also plays a key part. It is advisable to assign float nurses to a ward they have worked in before to save on training time, and make sure that they feel more comfortable sooner.


Think about streamlining and plan for training times

Experience shows: those who streamline processes by, for example, having the same outline for storage or laundry rooms on all wards, can simplify the training process for float nurses.


Nevertheless you should not expect float nurses to know everything from day one. Instead, you should schedule for one to three days of training time as a "buffer". Assigning float nurses to the same ward for as long as possible increases efficiency. 


Use the right tools

Software solutions such as Staffcloud enable ward managers to pick the most suitable person for each job from the float pool. The tool can store information on qualifications, working times, preferences and previous working experience. 


As soon as an employee is assigned, they are being notified on their smartphone and can accept or deny the shift they have been given. Find out more about our software solution in a demo. We will show you how hospitals can use Staffcloud to successfully implement a float pool. 


Example float pool management

Find out more about Staffcloud today!

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