By Chris Odei

During the past few years, healthcare has been at the forefront of our minds. As many countries regain some sense of normalcy following restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that healthcare practitioners play an important role in caring for our communities.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has some of the most advanced healthcare facilities in the world. However, with prestige comes competition. The medical field is highly competitive, and gaining admission into healthcare programs with limited numbers can be challenging for students seeking higher education in specialized areas of care. There are only 15 medical schools in the Middle East –making medical programming even more competitive in the region. These schools work hard to bring in the best of the best – whether that’s doctors, researchers and educators, or specialized equipment.

The UAE’s attention to detail and quality medical programs prepares graduates to work in world-class medical institutions. Constructing new medical schools and expanding program offerings enables the country to continue growing healthcare talent and to accommodate students looking to practice medicine in the Middle East.

Three best practices for healthcare education projects

Whether you’re a new or established university, creating a new educational program and learning environment involves unique challenges. You need to develop a new curriculum and recruit the right personnel to engage, motivate and mentor your students. In addition, when it comes to building or retrofitting the space, you need to consider project criteria such as: construction risks; operations and maintenance; budget; and schedule. However, it’s also important to understand specific stakeholder requirements, and engage healthcare authorities, specialized equipment suppliers and faculty as early as possible to ensure the space is functional and suited to your program’s specific needs.

Healthcare education is unique in that classroom learning only goes so far. To prepare the next generation of medical students for real-world scenarios, you must provide experience in a hospital-like setting, complete with medical gases, equipment, labs, examination rooms and more. It’s these requirements that blur the lines between developing a classroom versus a fully functional healthcare centre.

As a senior project manager, I’ve had the opportunity to manage a variety of education, healthcare and office fit-up projects across the UAE, Serbia and United Kingdom. Through this experience, I’ve gathered best practices that help make a medical school project successful. The following are some of the considerations that are worth sharing with project owners looking to include healthcare studies as part of their higher education programming:

  1. Engage with medical professionals, healthcare authorities and university personnel early
    There is a proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The same sentiment holds true for capital projects – particularly those requiring insight from multiple stakeholders or industry experts. New programming means new staff. Universities that incorporate program personnel into the project planning process have the advantage of designing a functional program – and ultimately a facility – that more accurately meets end user needs, expectations and requirements. Hiring university personnel – such as a department Dean – and bringing doctors, healthcare authorities and other medical professionals to the table early in the project planning process can help align the new curriculum with the new teaching space’s design and construction. Incorporating faculty expertise can also help project teams better plan, customize and design a space that embodies your program vision.

    In addition, it can be useful to consider the approach used by similar facilities. For example, during a project in Abu Dhabi, the university and medical professionals selected equipment based on an established university’s curriculum for a four-year Doctor of Medicine (MD) program. Using these program requirements enabled the project team to identify, procure and design the facility around necessary teaching equipment, while faculty finalized their new curriculum

  2. Develop a medical equipment integration plan
    Identifying the right medical simulation tools and specialized equipment is vital to offering quality training and a meaningful student experience. However, identifying the right equipment early in a project is also critical to finalizing the design. Holding a series of technical workshops can help project owners identify and select furniture and equipment based on feedback from medical professionals, program faculty and local healthcare authorities. The design team can then work with specialized equipment suppliers to develop a functional, flexible facility that meets the specifications and space requirements for each piece of equipment.

    It’s not uncommon to work backwards and design the building around the equipment and systems needed to maintain operations. Developing a medical equipment integration plan early in the project allows you to customize the building’s design to accommodate the installation of all necessary training equipment – including simulation tools, audio/visual systems, autopsy and anatomage tables, to name a few

  3. Identify a knowledge transfer, documentation and training plan
    Operations and maintenance are important to a facility’s long-term success. In the medical field, having knowledgeable operators and proper functioning equipment can potentially save a life – making regular equipment servicing a key component of medical training. Students need access to simulation tools and equipment to experience scenarios they will face in a hospital or clinical setting. Manufacturers of medical training tools are somewhat selective, meaning that they are often sourced from suppliers overseas. For this reason, it’s important to include knowledge transfer documentation, preventative maintenance, and training plans as part of your supplier procurement contract.

    Bringing suppliers to the table during the design process helps you keep the project on schedule and ensures that coordination issues – such as equipment size, power accommodations, and/or specific installation requirements – are addressed during the design phase. Early engagement of medical equipment suppliers also enables university maintenance teams to learn to service equipment first-hand. Allotting time to train on-site staff, handover specifications and training documents is important to maintaining daily operations. Maintenance staff who are present during equipment installation will have a better understanding of how to care for equipment between scheduled manufacturer maintenance. Additional knowledge transfer requests may include arrangements for online support and/or long-term commercial maintenance contracts.

Three ways a third-party project manager can support your healthcare education project

Higher education and healthcare projects often involve many stakeholders and moving parts. University expansions or new-builds often include rigid timelines to ensure the campus is ready for new or returning students. Projects that extend into the school year also need to be carefully managed to limit the impact of construction on the learning environment. Below are three ways a third-party project manager can help you deliver your next project successfully:

  1. Project planning and stakeholder engagement
    Third-party project managers can help you balance the development of your capital project with the creation of your new program. They will act on your behalf to support the project from its inception through construction, allowing you to focus on hiring faculty and developing your new curriculum. Project managers experienced in delivering similar healthcare or higher-education projects can also offer support by conducting feasibility studies, assisting with funding applications, formulating contract strategies, aligning with local healthcare regulations, as well as procuring equipment, consultants and contractors

  2. Introductions to regulatory bodies, healthcare professionals and seasoned establishments
    Experienced third-party project managers often have pre-existing relationships with government agencies, regulatory bodies, healthcare professionals, and/or other higher-education facilities. These connections offer a roster of readily available resources that can help to inform or shape your goals for both the project and academic curriculum. Familiarity with government agencies and other regulatory bodies can also be beneficial as it can speed up the approval and permitting processes, thereby keeping your project on schedule and in compliance with local regulations

  3. Managing risks, budgets and schedules
    It is a project managers’ job to help you define your risk tolerance and manage the project accordingly from inception through to opening day. Capital projects with a lot of moving parts, such as building a new medical school, requires attention to detail, refined communication and management skills to ensure you meet your project goals. Keeping the project on schedule for the following school year and within the proposed budget are two of the biggest challenges. Permit or equipment delays can throw off the entire schedule or even result in a costly re-design. An experienced third-party project manager with the knowledge of when to engage key stakeholders, and how to mitigate project risks, can take on the responsibility of managing your capital project, leaving you to focus on managing your academic facility.

Expanding university offerings to include healthcare programming is no small feat, but it is one that helps to grow the roster of talented, well-trained medical professionals in the Middle East. As you take on plans to expand your curriculum, ask yourself how these plans will impact your existing infrastructure. Customizing a hands-on, interactive teaching space enables you to give students a quality experience, while giving educators the tools and equipment to make the transition from teaching to practicing medicine seamless.

As your plans evolve, ensure you have the right team, expertise and knowledge-base to inform your design and see your project through to delivery.