Hear from the MSc Healthcare Leadership Programme Director about the benefits of the qualification for healthcare professionals.
Dr Patrick Marshall is the Programme Director for the MSc in Healthcare Leadership at the University of Hull. He spoke to Course Adviser Dan about what leadership is, the benefits of studying leadership for healthcare professionals and how what you learn during the programme can be applied in your workplace.
Dan: Why study healthcare leadership at master’s level?
Patrick: Many people think leadership is a series of concepts and constructs and models and frameworks. I don't believe that. I believe leadership is an active thing that you do every day. And it's the thing that allows you to come back to work the next day in whatever sector you work.
Being able to reflect quite deeply about what it is you do as a leader is a crucial element of how you will survive the next, however many years you have doing your current role. It will also, I think, help you to think about where you might want to go next and what you need to do to get to wherever that is.
I will strongly encourage you to become a reflective practitioner, because I do believe it's that which allows you to understand yourself and your leadership far more deeply than anything you could read or any piece of research you might find. Healthcare leadership is different from leadership in other sectors and this MSc will help you explore the difference.
One of the reasons why people study leadership at master's level, particularly in the health context, is for promotion. We shouldn't underestimate that.
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Dan: Why is this course about leadership and not management?
Patrick: In healthcare, leadership and management are very closely aligned. Management is about getting the job done in a practical sense. It's about processes, systems, protocols and policies you've got to follow. And that’s important, because as a patient, I want to know that my clinicians will do the best they can do for me with the knowledge they have. That requires good evidence-based practice that then gets translated into protocols. That's why healthcare has lots of managerial attributes.
What is leadership? Well, leadership is about answering questions such as, do I feel valued? Do I feel that my voice is heard? Do I feel that I make a positive contribution every day so I can come back to work the next day?
Those are the aspects of leadership that we will touch upon in all sorts of ways. In the first module, it's all about you and what you bring, and it will require you to go deep inside yourself because no leader can do anything without a full, clear and comprehensive understanding of themselves and how their context relates to the context in which they're working.
There are three aspects that I think modern healthcare leadership needs to focus on.
The first one is complexity. Healthcare leadership is one of the most complex areas that you could possibly imagine. You have people that are tired, people who have low morale, people who do not understand where the organisation is going and what their part within it is.
Leadership is the interaction between you as a professional, your organisation and the leaders around you who are trying to motivate you and to help you be innovative. What you do now will be mirrored in the way you work with your team and the way you work within your hospital or your trust or wherever you work.
Healthcare has real opportunities for people to make their mark. How do you make your mark in this complex world? The people, the technology, the leadership styles, the culture of an organisation, are moving around each other in dynamic relationship to each other. All those things make being a leader difficult.
What you will be able to understand from doing a master's is how that complexity and how those layers of different inputs and outputs operate and where you sit inside all of that. It’s about agency and feeling that you have control. When you lose that sense of control and agency, you can’t do what it is you want and need to do. This master’s will help you understand that in a way that makes sense for you.
The second one is understanding how collaboration works. It's about understanding relationships. It's about understanding how the relationship that you have with your colleagues, with your leader, with your subordinates, is massively important in terms of delivering the best quality care for patients. Nobody can do this by themselves.
And the third point is, I think that if you cannot be compassionate to yourself, it is impossible for you to be compassionate to others. Sometimes you've got to forgive yourself and go, that's as good as it can be today, but tomorrow it might be better.
Forgiving yourself is important. Leaders that think it's all wonderful and brilliant aren't very good for patients or working with other colleagues either. It’s understanding what’s going on and being compassionate about what you can and can’t do - being honest and truthful.
It's also important that you're compassionate to your colleagues, and that they are compassionate to you. These are reciprocal things. It goes back to collaboration because without that compassion for each other, you simply cannot be the team that you need to be that will deliver for patients.
Finally, it’s about being compassionate to your patients. That’s vital because that's what healthcare is about. It's about understanding that there's a human being who's worried and scared and vulnerable in front of you.
Remember, not all people involved in healthcare leadership are clinicians, they could be administration staff or managers, but they all contribute to the care of the patient. Ultimately leadership is about always delivering for those the people you're serving, which ultimately in healthcare is always the patient.
So, you know, compassion, collaboration, complexity, they're very important aspects. What I know, that's true across the world, is that leadership is a challenge in all healthcare systems because it's difficult, because it's complex, because collaboration is hard and because compassion requires real effort.
However, leaders can do those things and they can make the system better. They can make patient care better, and they can make colleagues’ lives better. And ultimately, I think you can make yourself better because these things all happen together. They are not separate from each other. They are linked.
By exploring who you are and how you do what it is you do, you will always learn something about yourself which is useful to you in the long term and can help you manage people in a better way. There's no question that the more collaborative you can be as a leader, the more you create a relationship with the people that you're leading, the more creativity, more innovation, and more commitment you allow for.
Dan: What are the main characteristics you need to be a successful leader?
Patrick: I think leaders are created. Part of doing a course like this is how you, in a sense, create your own vision of leadership for yourself. You can be an effective healthcare leader as an introverted person who likes fine detail. You can also be a brilliant leader by being an extroverted generalist who sees the big picture.
The important thing is understanding who you are. What traits do you bring to leadership in the context in which you're working and ensuring that the bit you don't do very well naturally, you get better at it?
I'm a bit of a broad-brush person, so I must really work on the fine detail. It's just a thing I've got to learn. Ultimately, whatever traits you've got, are leadership traits, in my view. You develop and use them in a way which delivers for other people and indeed your patients.
Dan: What stage of someone's career in health care do you think the MSc would be suitable for?
Patrick: This course is aimed at professionals who have got some experience in the field, whether it’s administration, HR or clinical areas. You may be a team leader, in charge of groups of people, or systems or structures. That's where it becomes most useful, for people who are ambitious and want senior roles because that's part of their promotion action plan.
However, it’s also very useful for people who are quite experienced, who've been in charge and have a clear leadership role. It helps them understand exactly what's going on for them and how they can improve.
And it's even useful for people at the very top of organisations who perhaps would think, why would I bother? Well, ultimately studying your own leadership is always useful.
You will also come out of the course with an MSc, and that's not to be underestimated. That's three letters after your name, which can be very nice to put on your letterheads or anything else. It also shows people that you have engaged with ideas and people. It's important that this is about people as much as it's about academic theory.
You’re in a cohort with people who come from different backgrounds, and you'll be able to bounce ideas off each other, talk to each other and make those connections. You will improve your promotion prospects. In the UK for example, a Level 7 qualification like this MSc will allow you to access higher grades within the NHS.
I have yet to come across anybody who hasn't found getting their MSc in Healthcare Leadership useful, even if they've changed roles. It will help you be resilient and bounce back from some of the pressures that you will face in your career.
Dan: How would you define a leader overall?
Patrick: You know, the skill and the knowledge and the understanding of leadership means that you are more sensitive to the data that's coming at you as a human and as a leader and as a manager. That allows you to then adjust your behaviour in a way that achieves what your team needs or the people around you need and what the overall organisation needs.
It's fascinating how people bring different experiences, examples, ways of looking at leadership challenges and ways of looking at the assessments. All those things are very helpful in developing that diversity that we need in healthcare leadership.
Our course is much more global than many master's programmes because there are lots of people from different healthcare systems on the course. It's not UK-centric. People are in different countries and have different ways of approaching healthcare.
If you do join this course, I’ll do my very best to make your experience of leadership stronger and richer and better, and hopefully you'll be successful and get your full MSc.
Thank you to Patrick for sharing his insights into healthcare leadership!
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