4 Key Hospital Department Staffing Benchmarks

Hospital department staffing benchmarks are goals and targets that your hospital management team must achieve when making staffing decisions.

Due to location, size, and specialization, varying benchmarks exist for hospitals. Staffing benchmarks also differ depending on the specific departments within each hospital, e.g., Maternity, ICU, Pathology, etc.

With that in mind, here are 4 recommended hospital department staffing benchmarks.

  1. How many Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) employees should each department staff?
  2. What are the ideal Utilization Rates of each department?
  3. Is there such a thing as an ideal turnover time in a hospital?
  4. What are some key nurse-to-patient ratios from department to department?

1. How many FTE staff do you need?

An FTE staff member will work 80 hours per 14 -day pay period, or a total of 2,080 hours per year.

There are several formulas available to determine the number of FTEs needed on the staffing roster. Numbers differ by department and patient needs.

By choosing the correct formula for your department, you can calculate the optimal number of FTE employees your department should staff.

When building your FTE staffing schedule, carefully look at best practices conducted by similar departments in other facilities, but also think about the number of patient hours your own department needs, based on experience. For example, a department with disorganized physicians who tend to run behind on paperwork might have higher-than-normal staffing needs.

A ‘reactionary’ model, in which more staff are called in on-the-fly due to a demand for more help, e.g., when staff are falling behind, can result in overstaffing and overspending.

2. What are Your Utilization Rates?

From a financial perspective, the layman might argue that a 100% utilization (bed occupancy rates) could be the ideal figure. Experts, however, advise that hospital utilization rates should not climb further than 85% at the very highest.

Ideal rates vary from day to day.

For example, utilization rates typically drop to 75% on weekends.

This is due to fewer instances of surgery on weekends and holidays and, as a result, lower volumes of nursing staff.

Utilization rates also vary from department to department, with the ICU usually tending to have the highest utilization rates.

Here are some helpful figures and strategies for managing utilization rates across the board, in particular, the ICU (the rates for which are particularly difficult to forecast).

Using the right benchmarks for your hospital department


3. How Long Are Your Turnover Times?

You can assess the turnover rate in your hospital by using this formula.

Average hospital turnover times range between 15-19 minutes. However, this figure is subject to variation.

Experts argue that simply measuring and then trying to shorten time employees spend per turnover is not the ideal tactic for improvement.

Trying to reduce turnover times can potentially be dangerous for patients (limiting your staff’s ability to sterilize equipment and operating rooms, for example).

Punctuality, and an interdepartmental understanding of how each department can work together — and can collaborate better — can also help improve numbers. Here’s a formula for determining the efficiency of your department’s turnover, which may help staff improve overall ‘patient flow’.

For More on Staffing and Patient Care, See:

4. How Do Your Nurse to Patient Ratios Stack Up?

There are strict guidelines to observe for the nurse to patient ratio, which varies based on the level of care each department requires.

  • Higher-risk patients — i.e., ICU, neonatal intensive care unit, post-anesthesia unit, labor, and delivery unit, acute respiratory care unit, and burn unit — require a 1:2 nurse-patient ratio.
  • Medium-risk patients — i.e., those in the antepartum, postpartum couplets, pediatrics, emergency room, step down, and telemetry units — need less attention with a 1:3 ratio.
  • Lower-risk patients — including the immediate care nursery, medical and surgical, and psychiatric care units — all have a 1:4 ratio.
  • Rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility units have a 1:5 ratio.
  • The unit of a hospital with the least attention is the well-baby nursery, i.e., a 1:6 ratio.


Ultimately, while benchmarks are a good starting point for optimizing your facility’s performance, they only represent a general target. Every facility will face its own challenges, and have its own unique team.

If your goal is to improve the productivity of your hospital and eliminate resource waste, the best place to start is with some of your highest paid employees. Physician productivity can be one of the biggest opportunities for your facility to improve its resource management.

And don’t forget about optimizing your most expensive department — the OR.