Coug nurse transforms schedule problem into tech startup

Closeup of Zach Smith.
Zach Smith is vice president of nursing for NurseGrid

By Addy Hatch, College of Nursing

SPOKANE, Wash. – As a bedside nurse for six years, Zach Smith knew the frustration of keeping track of his ever-changing work schedule. He and his wife, a fellow graduate of the Washington State University College of Nursing, would text each other lists of their upcoming shifts.

“It was really ineffective,” says Smith, BSN ’09.

So when a friend said he was thinking about building a free scheduling app just for nurses, Smith joined on as a founding member of NurseGrid.

Based in Portland, Oregon, NurseGrid offers a free mobile app for nurses and a paid version used by nurse managers. The mobile app has been downloaded about 500,000 times, with about 200,000 active users in the U.S.

NurseGrid helps nurses keep track of their schedules at a glance, swap shifts, share their availability with a manager, and connect with colleagues via an easy-to-use mobile app. For managers, NurseGrid tracks and visualizes who’s scheduled to work particular shifts, and lets managers approve shift swaps and fill open shifts quickly. Some 86 percent of all shift swaps are approved within two hours on the NurseGrid platform.

Screen shots of NurseGrid on a phone and a laptop.
NurseGrid simplifies and streamlines scheduling tasks for nurses and nurse managers, plus adds some social components like messaging and the ability to see who’s working particular shifts.

The result is fewer emails and calls and increased staff satisfaction, Smith says.

Both Smith and company CEO Joe Novello are nurses, along with two other members of the 50-person staff. Smith’s title is vice president of nursing.

“I’m the nurse filter for everything that leaves our office, whether it’s sales, marketing or product features,” he says. “If I feel like we’re drifting too far away, I snap that back, keeping us grounded to the people we’re trying to help.”

NurseGrid, founded in 2013, has attracted several rounds of venture capital financing totaling $9.3 million.

The company uses a bottom-up marketing strategy, offering the free mobile app to nurses and betting that its features and modern design result in positive word-of-mouth. As more nurses begin using the app, they recommend it to their managers and it rolls out one department at a time, though Smith says the company now serves entire hospitals and is working to implement NurseGrid in a nationwide kidney dialysis company.

“We wanted to prove to staff nurses we could build technology they liked,” he says. “Then we want to prove to a single department, ‘Look at how easy this is, the rate at which you’re filling open shifts, staff satisfaction numbers and the decrease in time spent on administrative tasks.’ Then we turn it into case studies and show it to hospital leadership.”

Zach Smith and other College of Nursing graduates wearing caps and gowns.
Zach Smith, center, graduated from the WSU College of Nursing in 2009.

NurseGrid has added a job board to its mobile app, allowing nurses to apply through the app, and is eyeing a student version for the future.

Smith, 33, credits the WSU College of Nursing for teaching him to be a leader as well as a nurse. “I’m proud to be a Coug,” he says.

He also wants nursing students to know there are many opportunities available to them beyond bedside nursing. His advice: “Think about the problems that you see, then go out and build solutions.”



  • Addy Hatch, communication director, WSU College of Nursing, 509-324-7340,

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