Back Row – Left to Right: Bill Nolan, Robin Varnes, Jennifer Banks, Dr. Colleen McKey, Colleen Howson, Dr. Gladys Peachey, Nancy Morris, Barbara Tatalovic
Front Row – Left to Right: Slavko Sapeta, Norma Bonner, Dr. Ruth Lee
Are people born with leadership DNA? Or do they learn to lead?
The success of students in a program offered by McMaster’s School of Nursing suggests that leadership is something you learn and continue to hone over a lifetime. Students, faculty and staff members gathered to celebrate achievements at an awards ceremony for the Leadership and Management Program on June 23 in McMaster’s Great Hall of the University Club.
For student Slav Sapeta, the program has been a real game-changer. “It has vaulted me from a practitioner to a leadership position in the hospital,” he said following the ceremony which included speeches, the presentation of certificates, and mingling over refreshments. In his current role, Sapeta uses skills he practiced in class to engage staff, improve processes and develop program changes. He now looks at management from a different perspective. “I’m teaching people to do things to enhance patient care, rather than telling someone to do something,” he explained.
Sapeta is one of ten interprofessional students who earned a certificate from the highly-rated program this year. For 23 years, the program has offered courses locally and internationally. Students can take just one or more courses individually, online or in person, or they can complete the six-course program and earn the certificate. With their heavy workloads and family responsibilities, students often take 3-4 years to finish all six courses. Since its inception in 2008, seventy-two students have completed the certificate program. Health care professionals can enroll as clinicians, managers, or informal leaders at any stage of their career.
Some students like Colleen Howson have been in senior positions for a long time but still find the courses very valuable. “I’ve been managing people for 11 years,” she said. “It’s the leadership pieces I needed to learn about. I actually learned more about myself and my capabilities and my leadership qualities. Reflection is one of the things I probably did a little bit of before, but I didn’t really take the time to think about it, trying to figure out why people are responding in the way they’re responding before I respond. When you’re working with groups of people, you need all types: people who will challenge, question and reason. Sometimes it’s great to have the people who challenge actually sit back and have the people who don’t normally challenge, challenge ... to have people get out of their safe spot and work together as a team.”
Teamwork is a word that comes up often in discussions with the program’s faculty and students. Students stressed the importance of the support they received from their families, their work team, their professors, and their classmates as well. Jennifer Banks said one of the program’s highlights was “meeting and networking with people, leaving the course and still keeping contact with those people and utilizing their skills and expertise to help me and me help them.” Banks works at a long-term care home. “Over the time I’ve taken the course, I’ve also moved up the ladder a few positions. The course helped me be able to do that.” She uses the tools from the course in coaching and mentoring others.
Robin Varnes also praised her classmates and enjoyed seeing “how everyone else thinks and does things. I’ve learned a lot from everyone, not just the teachers. I started three years ago when I worked as a staff nurse. A year and a half ago I left that for HealthLink. Now I’ve taken a leadership job as a clinical practice leader on the floor that I left.” She has learned to mentor and to teach staff about conflict management and team building. “I love this program. The teachers are all wonderful.”
Norma Bonner agreed. “I think the level of compassion and tutelage that the faculty provided was perfect. I refer this program to anyone interested in a leadership role in nursing, even bachelor-prepared nurses. It’s a different realm when you’re heading into a leadership role.”
Bill Nolan remarked on the creativity of the professors in shaping the course content. He described the program as “a group effort for improving health care” and called the teachers “inspirational”. One issue that leaders face is the challenge of working with staff from different generations. “This course gave us many thoughts on how to deal with the different eras.” For Nolan, “this course is a beginning. If Mac is able to create a Masters for this program, I would participate in it.”
Dr. Colleen McKey, director of the program and one of its faculty, congratulated the students and described them as “true leaders”. She urged them to continue learning and to ask themselves tough questions, such as: “Does the patient see leadership in practice?” She noted that the bookstores are full of books on the topic of leadership, many of them claiming to have the key to great leadership, but in reality, “there’s no perfect recipe for leadership. It’s rewarding, challenging and at times messy.” Fundamentally, leadership is about our core values. It defines us.
In addition to recognizing the students, their families and colleagues, McKey thanked current and former faculty who have contributed to the program, including Dr. Ruth Lee, Dr. Gladys Peachey and Dr. Terry Shields.
Dr. Carolyn Byrne, Associate Dean and Director of the School of Nursing, commented: “This leadership program gives students the tools and knowledge leaders need in health care today. The School of Nursing is extremely proud of the leadership program and of the leadership positions that students move into.” During the ceremony, Carolyn’s twelve beliefs about leadership were shared with the group. These mirrored many of the values of the students in the program, such as respect, openness, vision, the support of a strong team, and the need for lifelong learning.
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