Saturday, June 3, 2023

RCSI’s Professional Diploma in Clinical Leadership

How an innovative online course from RCSI is driving leadership and career development for Healthcare Professionals globally, by Peter McGuire

Medicine is often perceived as a very hands-on profession. Whether a doctor, nurse, physiotherapist or other health professional, it’s seen as being all about talking to patients, checking their health and examining their bodies.

This is, of course, very much the case, however, at the core of this activity healthcare professionals are everyday leaders – leading patients to better health, teams to deliver the best in care, and often society to better population health. But where do healthcare professionals learn how to lead?

RCSI’s Professional Diploma in Clinical Leadership is designed to respond to this need through its online, multidisciplinary programme for healthcare professionals of all levels and backgrounds who wish to develop their leadership and management skills and build the confidence and competence to lead high performing teams.

Mr Dermot O’Flynn

The nine-month programme at RCSI fosters collaborative learning among multidisciplinary health and social care professionals, as well as managers and administrators. There’s a strong emphasis on helping students to understand how their healthcare organisation works, how to understand their own strengths and weaknesses and how to use that knowledge to lead and manage people.

This online course was launched in 2018 and quickly became popular among healthcare professionals, growing quickly to two intakes per year and a global student profile- an indicator of the acuity of the need for this skill set within the healthcare system internationally. The unique programme offers a flexible, student-led journey, in appreciation for the complexity of healthcare professionals’ schedules and their demanding professions.

The course is designed to be highly interactive with engaging on-demand content as well as live webinars (always recorded for those who can’t make it in person).

“We always log in 15 minutes before class and say hello to our students, just as we would say hello when we walk into the classroom,” says Dermot O’Flynn, Programme Director of the Professional Diploma in Clinical Leadership. “Online, we run quizzes or questions in the first few minutes, and those participating can engage with us throughout by writing notes, asking questions, making comments and asking for clarity – it’s all about making the online experience as interactive as possible.

We are providing a solution to busy healthcare professionals whether nurses, managers, doctors, surgeons or allied health professionals, who don’t have the time, or perhaps a need for a longer programme, such as a Masters. Instead, they can undertake critical, insightful upskilling over nine months, at their own pace.

“We focus on clinical leadership and professional practice in the areas of change performance management, risk management and patient safety. We help professionals to develop the skills necessary to lead a high performing team. In the second module, students undertake an interdisciplinary project in a virtual team. This is an opportunity to work closely with fellow students worldwide, including those from Ireland, Africa, and the Middle East and to learn from each other’s expertise and experience. The project is designed to be practical and impactful so that the key learnings can be applied in their own place of work. At the end of the project, they deliver a virtual presentation on what they have learned about working as an international, multidisciplinary healthcare team.

RCSI is delighted to offer a 10 per cent discount to readers of the Irish Medical Times for the upcoming intake of the Professional Diploma in Clinical Leadership (October 2023). Please register your interest using the QR code to avail of this opportunity (terms and conditions apply).

In 2020, the programme was shortlisted for the best online learning experience, with the judges commending its interactivity and the quality of the leadership content. There is a strong emphasis on students building their emotional intelligence and self-awareness, as personal understanding is seen as key to understanding others.

Dr Melanie Ryberg, a chartered clinical psychologist and clinical neuropsychologist, is a graduate of the RCSI programme. She says that the promise of developing teamwork and leadership skills was what initially attracted her to the programme.

“When I graduated from the doctoral training programme in clinical psychology, I knew that this would not be the end of my educational journey,” she says

Dr Melanie Ryberg

Dr Melanie Ryberg

Ryberg worked in HSE mental health services for a number of years, supporting adults with a range of mental health difficulties in community and institutional settings.

“It was a seminal experience, because I wasn’t just one healthcare professional, but a member of a team that needed to work positively and constructively together to identify and overcome challenges. In a complex healthcare system like Ireland’s, this teamwork aspect is vital.”

As Ryberg’s career progressed and her roles changed, her focus broadened and in addition to her clinical responsibilities, she realised she had a leadership role to play in improving patient care and services.

“I was at the table when decisions were being made and services being planned, and I found it very meaningful, with real opportunities to create system change and to improve patient care.”

Ryberg decided that she wanted to further develop these skills.

“These critical skills in areas such as organisational change are not part of core clinical training. I’d been looking at the RCSI course for a few years and knew it would help me bring my leadership skills to the next level. When I started the course, it coincided with me starting a new position, one that would require me to take a lead role in the development of psychological services for critical care in hospitals, in the middle of a global pandemic.”

Medical Staff Meeting

Pic: iStock

This was not just a new role for Ryberg, but a new specialism in Ireland, and so Ryberg had a chance to get the right systems in place from the outset. She was hopeful that the course would help her to further develop her clinical leadership skills and drive change in a complex system, bringing other clinicians and stakeholders with her on the change journey.

Like most adult learners, Ryberg was relatively new to online learning. “The onboarding for new students was great” Ryberg said “I felt really supported from the start of the programme”. Learners are given lots of support to adapt to digitally engaged study. RCSI is proficient in supporting learners of all technical abilities – from those who struggle with technology to those who consider themselves digital natives.

The platforms are designed to be as intuitive and accessible for all, and the Programme Team provides a thorough induction and orientation for all new students before teaching begins.

While the programme is designed to meet the needs of healthcare professionals who find themselves in leadership roles, it also serves those who have ambitions to step up into their first leadership role.

Many of the programme’s graduates have changed jobs after the course.

“It provides them with the skills and expertise they need to move up the management ladder, and they learn so much from one another,” says O’Flynn.

“We’ve had healthcare professionals from every discipline and background taking part. When going to interview for senior health professional roles, they know there is a significant advantage in having a leadership qualification.”

As for Ryberg, she says that the course has given her practical skills and significant confidence.

“I’d spent ten years studying different aspects of psychology, but this course came from a different perspective, giving me new language and concepts,” she says. “It was a challenge to look at things from a different perspective and, in intensive care, it allowed me to step back and think of the clinical underpinnings.

“Since concluding the course in 2021, I’ve moved to leadership positions in the clinical domain. Psychological services in intensive care are new to Ireland, so I have been helping to develop this specialism across the country. The skills, knowledge and language that I developed during the diploma afforded me the additional lens and language to move things forward. This course has been central to my personal development and professional contribution.”

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