Health Leadership program draws participants from around world

By Chris Chipello

Penny Price heads the national ambulance system in Qatar. Samuel Cuarto, a Catholic priest, directs a nursing home in Manila and a community development and health program for tribal people three hours’ drive away. Xavier Boilard is the youthful chief executive of a company providing software products that connect groups of physicians in Quebec.

Price, Cuarto and Boilard were among the 32 participants in the recently completed second class of McGill’s International Masters for Health Leadership (IMHL) – a collaborative program that draws on Desautels Faculty of Management Prof. Henry Mintzberg’s innovative approach to management education and on the Faculty of Medicine’s pool of expertise in health care.

Like two earlier international programs inspired by Mintzberg, the IMHL combines formal management education with hands-on examination of practical issues. The participants are senior health-care professionals from a variety of backgrounds, underscoring Mintzberg’s belief that managers learn best by reflecting on their own experience, personally and with colleagues. Participants attend five modules of 12 days each spread over 16 months.

The second class, which held its final module in June, included 10 managers trained as physicians, six as nurses, and others as paramedics, economists, psychologists and social workers. They came from 13 countries, including Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Iceland, England, the Philippines and Belgium.

“There’s an energy in the class that’s very contagious,” Mintzberg said. “My ultimate dream is that the [program] becomes a major recognized forum that’s driving important changes in health care worldwide. “

Like a number of participants, Price said the IMHL has transformed her. “My view of the world has opened up,” she said. The program has “caused me to reassess my role, and my industry’s role in health” – and look more at measures to prevent people from having to use overburdened health-care systems.

Originally from Valleyfield, Que., Price did ambulance training at Royal Victoria hospital in the early 1980s. She worked in Alberta and Brunei, before moving to Qatar. She now oversees an ambulance-service staff of more than 700 people representing 22 nationalities.

Even with her extensive foreign experience, Price said the IMHL broadened her horizons dramatically. For her “managerial exchange” – an element of the program in which one class member spends a week in a fellow participant’s workplace – she traveled to Iceland to observe classmate Ragnheidur Haraldsdottir in her role as Deputy Permanent Secretary of that country’s Ministry of Health.

Another key element of the IMHL program is the “anchoring project,” chosen by participants to bring about significant change within their organizations. The 26-year-old Boilard, the youngest participant, took over as CEO of his father’s company after starting the IMHL program last year. It was a time of turmoil for the firm, as a key venture-capital investor had decided to pull out. Boilard’s project was to restructure the 30-employee company; he said it has now rebounded from a significant loss a year ago, to break even in its recently ended fiscal year. “I just listened, and tried to work as a team” to find solutions.

Cuarto, 41, found out about the IMHL after reading Mintzberg’s book, Managers not MBAs, for a course at the Asian Institute of Management in Manila – and came away “so impressed by his ideas about leadership, about management.”

The IMHL is “a really unique journey” Cuarto said, during a break from the group’s final module. The time between modules provides an opportunity for reflecting on the classroom material in a work environment and “sewing it together.”

The third IMHL class is scheduled to start in November (2009). Fees for the program – $45,000 (Canadian), exclusive of travel and living expense – are generally paid by the participant’s organization.

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This article was posted on August 27, 2009