The Case

Paul Pureheart, Education Specialist for Southwest Hospital System, was surprised to get a call from Nancy Naysayer, CME director for Mercy Medical School, inviting him to collaborate on a new grant request. The two organizations, along with a small cardiology society, had recently completed a series of 50 regional activities. Paul and his colleagues were in charge of event planning, participant recruitment, and evaluation summaries; the other partners were responsible for faculty interaction, content review, and financial and project management.

Paul had high expectations for the previous partnership based on Nancy's visibility in the CME community — she was perceived as a leader — and he was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with her and her colleagues. But after only a few weeks into the development process for the live event series, Paul realized that things were not progressing well. The other partners missed planning calls, were not rigorous in complying with relevant guidelines, and seemed unconcerned about budget overruns. Paul and his colleagues were very stressed throughout the program's execution because they had to pick up the slack so often. Although the content the partners produced for the cardiology series addressed the identified educational needs and practice gap, Paul decided to gracefully decline participating in the new grant request and instead focus his efforts on opportunities that might be more pleasant and lucrative.

Sometimes, It's Just Not Worth It

Overstreet: Though it would be difficult to decline an opportunity for an educational grant in the current economy, I've been in similar situations.

Parochka: Partnerships are like poker hands. You need to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.

How can organizations select appropriate partners?

Overstreet: Different providers within each provider segment have various skill sets and resources, and it's hard to know which ones will be good partners. Ensuring that collaborators share values related to quality education is an important early step. Checking references and reviewing the previous work of prospective partners could also be very helpful.

Parochka: A face-to-face meeting of the principals can help determine whether you should go forward with the partnership and whether your business philosophies match. Create an extensive list of questions to ask during the initial discussion, and be prepared to address the partner's questions as well. If you walk away from the meeting deciding that ideas don't mesh and personalities don't mix, then don't enter into the partnership.

What can partners do to ensure that their relationship runs smoothly?

Overstreet: I strongly recommend that partners have early detailed discussions about roles, responsibilities, and timelines. Frequent detailed communication is key during planning and implementation phases.

Parochka: Educational partners need to sign a “memorandum of understanding” outlining which organization is responsible for what, and stipulating the right to bail out of the arrangement if infractions occur. If clearly defined divisions of labor and firm deadlines are jointly established, the consequences of not meeting these objectives could be translated into return on investment — dollars lost. Otherwise, if deadlines are missed, people might have a tendency to start pointing fingers at each other. Referring to the agreement focuses the responsibilities squarely where they belong.

Karen Overstreet, EdD, RPh, FACME, is president, Indicia Medical Education LLC, North Wales, Pa. Reach her at

Jacqueline Parochka, EdD, FACME, is president and CEO, Excellence in Continuing Education Ltd., Gurnee, Ill; and partner, PTR Educational Consultants. Reach her at

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