Journal of Heuristics

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 359–385 | Cite as

An electromagnetic meta-heuristic for the nurse scheduling problem

  • Broos Maenhout
  • Mario Vanhoucke


In this paper, we present a novel meta-heuristic technique for the nurse scheduling problem (NSP). This well-known scheduling problem assigns nurses to shifts per day maximizing the overall quality of the roster while taking various constraints into account. The problem is known to be NP-hard.

Due to its complexity and relevance, many algorithms have been developed to solve practical and often case-specific models of the NSP. The huge variety of constraints and the several objective function possibilities have led to exact and meta-heuristic procedures in various guises, and hence comparison and state-of-the-art reporting of standard results seem to be a utopian idea.

We present a meta-heuristic procedure for the NSP based on the framework proposed by Birbil and Fang (J. Glob. Opt. 25, 263–282, 2003). The Electromagnetic (EM) approach is based on the theory of physics, and simulates attraction and repulsion of sample points in order to move towards a promising solution. Moreover, we present computational experiments on a standard benchmark dataset, and solve problem instances under different assumptions. We show that the proposed procedure performs consistently well under many different circumstances, and hence, can be considered as robust against case-specific constraints.


Electromagnetic meta-heuristic Local search Nurse scheduling 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Economics and Business AdministrationGhent UniversityGentBelgium
  2. 2.Operations & Technology Management CentreVlerick Leuven Gent Management SchoolGentBelgium

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