Project Management in Healthcare

A living room with a coffee table

What’s it like being a project manager in healthcare?

I worked in the healthcare sector in the UK for 12 years.

I spoke to Nada Abandah, a project manager in the PMO for the Dubai Health Authority, about what it’s like to work in healthcare during a discussion for the Project Management Club on Clubhouse.

We also took questions from the audience about healthcare PM.

What’s the best thing about being a PM in healthcare?

Nada: You can see the impact on people’s health in a way that other industries don’t. There is pressure but also a sense of purpose.

Elizabeth: Healthcare projects have a direct impact on patient care and it’s really easy to see how you are contributing to supporting patients. 

Healthcare projects have a direct impact on patient care and it\'s really easy to see how you are contributing to supporting patients.

What’s it been like dealing with the coronavirus response?

Nada: It’s been important to be fast, efficient and courageous, being not afraid to make mistakes or fix them. It’s re-engineered lots of things like norms and it has meant lots of things can be reconsidered. The response has shown us how much potential we have to throw away rigid processes. 

Elizabeth: I left healthcare just before COVID-19 hit, to focus on my independent practice as a trainer and mentor for project managers. However, I still do some project-related work for clients. I think that even in non-healthcare PM we’ve seen more flexibility and willingness to rethink the way work is done as a result of the workplace changes over the past year.

What certificates would help me get into healthcare project management?

Nada: Think about what you want to get out of a career in PM and start with an online course to ensure it’s aligned to your career objectives.

How do I move into strategic project management from a pharmacy role?

Elizabeth: There are lots of tech projects relating to pharmacy and drug management, so that could be a route in. As a clinician, you’ll have a lot of valuable experience to add to support project prioritisation and strategic decision making. 

Perhaps starting out you’ll want to get some hands on project management experience and then move into a role where you are operating at a more strategic level.

What are the skillsets required to be successful in management in healthcare?

Nada: One size does not fit all and it doesn’t fit anybody. Different methodologies are appropriate for different healthcare projects. We’ve customised the methodology we use for healthcare and also the type of project. The way you assess stakeholders is different. It has to put the patient at the heart of the outcome.

We created a healthcare competency framework that is specific to our environment.

I’ve noticed a shift towards agile ways of working. Is this also the trend in healthcare?

Elizabeth: Agile is certainly used in healthcare. For us it was within the IT and Marketing teams as part of a hybrid environment, and they worked with sprints to manage their work.

 The program manager was managing the work overall, so the whole project wasn’t agile, but it’s possible to blend project approaches to get the best fit for the teams and the work.

Nada: I don’t see resistance to classical project management but there’s definitely an interest in seeing the results – delivering benefits. The method you choose to use should be tailored to the environment.

Should I continue with a public health degree now I’ve decided to move into PM?

Nada: Yes! That supports the drive to support wellness and projects that support that aspect of projects. You can add PM qualifications later. You’d be unstoppable!

Can you talk about the educational requirements for PMP?

Elizabeth: You have to have 35 contact hours of project management training, so if you have a degree that included some specific project management training, that would count. However, many people opt to do a specific PMP prep course that provides the contact hours and also the knowledge required to pass the exam.

However, as well as the educational requirements, you also need project management experience, so if you don’t meet those, it’s worth looking at CAPM instead.

How do you avoid managing projects with only backward-looking metrics in healthcare?

Elizabeth: The same way as in any other industry. We use the tools we have for forecasting. We would look forward, do capacity planning and many tools on the market now are incorporating AI to help with that.

Nada: Use the skills of your team and make sure they know how to use the data properly.

Is there a tool that is being used in healthcare?

Nada: We use Microstrategy. Each organisation would look into what works best for them and make a choice on the tools to use.

Elizabeth: We use the same PM tools as everyone else, I’m not aware of any particular healthcare project management tools. We use like MS Project, SharePoint spreadsheets etc. PM3 is apparently a widely-used tool in use in the NHS, but I haven’t used it. The tool you end up using depends what your PMO implements.

How do you drive transparency through the projects for financial information?

Elizabeth: Think about how stakeholders judge success: it’s not always financial benefits, and I’ve noticed that to be particularly the case in healthcare. Our projects may have benefits like:

  • Improved patient satisfaction
  • Improved employee satisfaction (for non-clinical, clinical staff and medical staff)
  • Reduction in wrong-site surgery or other measures.

Tracking project budgets is important and finance teams are set up to do that, and project managers can manage their project budgets too.

Nada: Have transparent conversations with stakeholders early about what is success and how we will measure those, and consider what the benefits of the project are. That becomes your guiding factor.

Follow us on Clubhouse: @elizabethharrin and @nadaabandah

Follow us on Instagram: @elizabeth.harrin and @nadaabandah

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project management in healthcare