2002 Salary Survey Results: Patient education job title comes with a lot more respect

Value of having designated employee to meet JCAHO standards now clear

About nine years ago, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations based in Oakbrook Terrace, IL, began to write standards for patient education. In response, health care institutions began to designate someone to take more responsibility for developing and coordinating patient education in a more systematic and accountable way, says Mary Szczepanik, MS, BSN, RN, manager of cancer education, support, and outreach at Grant/Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, OH.

When Magdalyn Patyk, MS, RN, advanced practice nurse for patient education at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, got into the field in the early 1990s, only four regulations pertained to patient education. Then around 1994 the Joint Commission expanded the standards to an entire chapter. "I think patient education has increasing importance now," she says.

The 2002 Patient Education Management Salary Survey reflects the impact the emphasis on patient education has had upon health care, Szczepanik says. Many readers indicated that they had been in their positions from four to nine years. "This means that the position of patient education manager is valued by health care organizations and by the Joint Commission and it is a stable position," she says. (See graph)

Patient education managers’ years in health care, however, often are far greater than their years in patient education. Most have worked in the industry 25 years or more. Typically, health care facilities will choose someone who has been in the organization for a while when they decide to create a position to help meet Joint Commission standards for patient education, says Sandra Cornett, RN, PhD, director of the Ohio State University/Area Health Education Center Health Literacy Program in Columbus. "The job really requires an in-depth knowledge of health care delivery systems and organizations as a whole, in addition to knowing education," she says.

There is no field of patient education where you get a degree. Most experience comes from on-the-job training, although the person hired for a patient education manager or coordinator position would have educational skills, says Cornett. The fact that people are remaining in the job long-term indicates that the job is challenging. "It seems that once people get in the position, there are some exciting challenges so they don’t turn over in short periods of time like every two or three years," she says.

One challenge is to ensure education across the continuum of care. While a health care facility may have a large hospital, that does not always define the scope of a patient education manager’s job, says Louise Villejo, MPH, CHES, director of patient education at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

"Health care has gone to the ambulatory care setting," she says. MD Anderson has more than 500 hospital beds, but 1,600 clinic visits are scheduled daily. Managers who cover both the inpatient and outpatient setting have a huge job, she says.

While the bulk of readers who answered the survey reported a salary range of $40,000 to $60,000, many did report that their annual gross income was higher, with a few making more than $80,000 per year. (See graph)

The scope of job responsibilities would influence salary, says Szczepanik. "Usually when you have the title of manager next to your name, it means you have direct reports, fiscal accountability, and other types of accountability," she explains. However some may not have reporting, but the manager title gives them the freedom to make the decisions they need without checking with other people.

The number of people reporting to a manager can influence salary as well. "A lot of patient education managers don’t have multiple people reporting to them," says Cornett. Many times, "patient education manager" is considered a staff position vs. what is called a line position and therefore would warrant a lower salary, she says. (See graph)

Experience impacts salary

In addition to job responsibility, years of experience also could impact the amount of money a patient education manager might be paid. "If a patient education manager has been within the organization for a while, seniority issues could come into play," says Patyk.

If an advanced degree is required, the salary will be higher. At some health care facilities, a patient education manager must have a master’s degree, says Cornett.

How the role is defined could influence salary, says Annette Mercurio, MPH, CHES, director of Patient, Family and Community Education at City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, CA. If the job has a clinical orientation, the salary would have to be higher to be competitive. Another factor would be the geographic location of the health care facility. Salaries are higher on the East and West coasts and in Florida, she says.

Most readers indicated that their salary had increased 1% to 3% over the year, while the second largest group reported an increase between 4% and 6%. Some reported no change while a few others had a greater salary increase than 6%. The increase would depend on the policy of the institution.

A salary increase or a percentage increase really is determined by the health care facility, Szczepanik says. There may be an annual cost-of-living increase for everyone in the facility, or there may be a performance-based salary increase where the person’s salary increase is based on merit, she says.

When salary is based on merit, there is usually a range of increase that depends on the rating. For example, a certain percentage increase would be slated for an adequate rating with a higher percentage given for an excellent rating. "Sometimes managers will be eligible for an annual bonus, and this could be true for staff, too, based on organization performance, individual performance or a combination of the two," says Szczepanik.

The percentage of salary increase can depend on the financial situation of the institution that year. "Some have a fixed increase unless their budget doesn’t permit it," says Mercurio.

Like the percentage of salary increase, number of hours spent on the job per week can depend on the institution as well as the job description, says Cornett. Some are paid biweekly rather than monthly, and they are not considered salaried employees but rather hourly wage earners. "To keep the cost down, administrators don’t want these employees working more than a 40-hour workweek," she says.

This could be one reason a good portion of the readers who answered the survey marked that they worked an average of 41-45 hours per week.

For some patient education managers, having the ability to work flexible hours can keep the workweek manageable. In this situation, if a patient education manager had an event to oversee in the evening, he or she could go in to work later in the day, says Szczepanik.

The job of patient education manager has a multitude of tasks, says Cornett. Most managers handle multiple projects, attend many meetings, and are always working on material development, which requires a lot of time and effort. Enabling others to do patient education requires a lot of contact time as well, she says. (See graphs 4, 5 and 6)


For more information on salary trends in the field of patient education, contact:

  • Sandra Cornett, RN, PhD, Director, OSU/AHEC Health Literacy Program, Office of Health Sciences, The Ohio State University, 218 Meiling Hall, 370 W. Ninth Ave., Columbus, OH 43210-1238. Telephone: (614) 292-0716. E-mail: cornett.3@osu.edu.
  • Annette Mercurio, MPH, CHES, Director of Patient, Family and Community Education, City of Hope National Medical Center, 1500 E. Duarte Road, Duarte CA 91010-0269. Telephone: (626) 301-8926. E-mail: amercurio@smtplink.coh.org.
  • Magdalyn Patyk, MS, RN, Advanced Practice Nurse, Patient Education, Nursing Development, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 251 E. Huron, Suite 4-708, Chicago, IL 60611-2908. Telephone: (312) 926-2173. E-mail: mpatyk@nmh.org.
  • Mary Szczepanik, MS, BSN, RN, Manager, Cancer Education, Support and Outreach, Grant/Riverside Methodist Hospital, 3535 Olentangy River Road, Columbus, Oh 43214. Telephone: (614) 566-3280.
  • Louise Villejo, MPH, CHES, Director of Patient Education, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe, Box 21, Houston, TX 77030. Telephone: (713) 792-7128. E-mail: lvillejo@notes.mdacc.tmc.edu.