Keys to effective education project management

Allow time for unforeseen problems

A patient education manager often juggles many tasks, including oversight of educational programs and special projects such as the creation of education materials. It’s often difficult to keep projects on track and make sure they are completed on time. Good project management begins with the committee structure. It is important that the members of the team collaborate and agree on deadlines, says Virginia Forbes, MSN, RN, program director of patient and family education at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

To ensure the right group is assembled for a project, ask the core members which other staff should be involved. This will help prevent loose ends from dangling at the end of the project, says Forbes. If approvals are required, get the right administrator involved. If it is a clinical project, have the right clinicians involved. And if it is a multi-site project, be sure to bring in the right people from each of the areas, advises Forbes.

Bring all involved departments together

For Mary Paeth, MBA, RD, patient/community education coordinator at Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, WA, there are two types of projects for which she works with teams. With the first, a group convenes to discuss a specific need and to develop a plan to meet it. For example, the medical center needed better osteoporosis/fall prevention education, but no one was sure how such a program should be structured. The orthopedic physicians asked for patient classes because they could not cover all the information in an office visit. The pharmacy department offered to conduct screenings, and physical therapy wanted to assess patients to determine if they were at risk for falls.

By bringing all departments together to talk about the need, the skills available, and the way to work together for maximum results, Paeth and her team were able to develop a program that met everyone’s needs, she says.

The second method for creating a program is to start with a plan and invite the participants to join in a specific role.

Whichever method is used, it is important that the key people commit to the project and attend group meetings, says Paeth. It also is important to establish a time frame for the work that must be completed. "Over time, I have gained an understanding of how long it takes to complete the various steps in a project. For many projects, it is my responsibility to help others who have never done it before to learn the time requirements for each step," says Paeth.

If no one is familiar with the process or sure of the exact time line, have the team examine the project and take it apart step by step to determine how much time will be needed to complete each task, says Forbes. Once the timeline is established, increase it by about one-third, she adds.

It is important to build some flexible time into the project, agrees Paeth. Factor in time for illness, weather, emergencies, workload fluctuations, reflection on a piece for a while, and other eventualities, she says.

Once a time line is established, make sure all key members agree to it. "They are the ones that will make or break the deadlines, so they must feel it is reasonable," says Paeth.

Providing support

To help the committee members meet deadlines, Forbes sends reminders and offers assistance if anyone is having difficulty meeting the deadline. While she may not have all the answers to a problem, she can help find the right person to consult. Effective communication always is important when trying to keep to a timeline, says Forbes. At New York-Presbyterian Hospital, groups working together can set up a team web site on the health care system’s intranet. This gives them a place to post information for feedback and corrections from other committee members.

Busy schedules often make it difficult for people to attend meetings, so communicating by e-mail, telephone, and a team web site helps move the project along without conflicting with committee members’ schedules.

To help meet the time line for a class or community outreach event, Paeth established a checklist with the program essentials on it. "Not only does it help remind me what must be done, it also helps others see all of the pieces and what I will need from them," she says. (See program checklist example, below.)

Source: Mary Paeth, MBA, RD, Patient/Community Education Coordinator,
Southwest Washington Medical Center, Vancouver, WA.

Always make sure people understand which tasks they are responsible for, says Paeth. Write summaries of what is to be done and by whom for each assignment at the end of each meeting, and make sure the minutes reflect each assignment correctly, she advises.


For more information about completing projects in a timely manner, contact:

  • Virginia Forbes, MSN, RN, Program Director of Patient and Family Education, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, 525 East 68th St., New York, NY 10021. Telephone: (212) 746-4094. E-mail:
  • Mary Paeth, MBA, RD, Patient/Community Education Coordinator, Education Department, Southwest Washington Medical Center, P.O. Box 1600, 400 NE Mother Joseph Place, Vancouver, WA 98668. Telephone: (360) 514-6788. E-mail: