New scholarship programme for surgeons in leadership roles in sub-Saharan Africa

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Since 2008, RCSI has been working in partnership with COSECSA (the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa) to develop the surgical workforce in sub-Saharan Africa, and improve access to surgical are for patients. This partnership has been funded by the Irish government’s overseas development body, Irish Aid – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Professional development has been integral to this partnership since the beginning. Over the past 14 years, hundreds of COSECSA surgeons have participated in bespoke Master Trainer and Train the Trainer courses, facilitated by Mr Dermot O’Flynn, Prof. Ciaran O’Boyle and other RCSI staff in several countries across the region.

COSECSA is committed to supporting their network of programme directors who are responsible for the delivery of the decentralised COSECSA training programme across 139 accredited hospitals, spanning 20 countries in the region.

A previous survey indicated that 57% of the programme directors had no formal training in leadership. This finding led to the creation of a scholarship programme between RCSI Graduate School of Healthcare Management (GSM) and COSECSA.

In 2021, GSM offered four scholarships on its Professional Diploma in Clinical Leadership (PDiCL) to COSECSA programme directors. This nine-month course is recognised by the National University of Ireland, and is delivered online through a mix of interactive on-demand content, webinars and workshops. The PDiCL is specifically designed to equip healthcare professionals with evidence-based leadership skills, to help them achieve individual goals and meet the needs of their organisation.

Now, as the Professional Diploma in Clinical Leadership begins for a new cohort of students, students and staff involved in the first RCSI GSHM/COSECSA scholarship programme share their insights.

“Leadership is presumed to be a soft skill that every surgeon needs to have since they would be the ship's captain when operating on a patient. But surgical training doesn't arm a surgeon with hospital leadership skills. I am trained to operate, but I was not trained to solve conflicts, deal with budgets, or address quality improvement. In a leadership position, these are some things one needs to perform.

I found it great working with other members from other countries on the PDiCL. It allowed me to learn from their experiences. Leadership problems seem to be the same; the difference would be the location where one is and what resources one has to solve the issues.

Working in groups neutralised our multidisciplinary backgrounds, and we worked as a single unit all striving towards a single goal. Everyone was accommodating and willing to get the work done in good time.

I learnt more about conflict resolution, self-realisation and the power of a leader. Within the diploma, self-reflection was also a crucial area. The fact that leaders need a calm mind-focused mind is something I didn't expect. This was utterly new.”

Vihar Kotecha, MD, MMED Gen Surg, FCS Gen Surg (ECSA), FACS

Assistant Head of Surgery Department, Bugando Medical Centre, Tanzania 2021-2022 Scholarship winner

“In the hospital, I am a consultant General Surgeon, working as the head of the department of surgery for the last six years and at the same time program site director – COSECSA.

Through the PDiCL I had the privilege to share different experiences from different countries and different professions including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, and administrators. I have improved my communication skills, giving feedback to both workers and students, managing conflicts, and preventing burn out.

This course has given me skills and wisdom to manage my dual roles as a clinician and leader. I have developed self-awareness and am working on my areas of weakness. I would like to be involved more in research, and would like to be effective at whatever leadership level I serve.”

Dr Tubasiime Ronald, MD, FCS (ECSA), FACS

Head of Surgery Department, Kibogora Hospital, Rwanda 2021-2022 Scholarship winner

“During my general surgery training, I was expected to tutor and mentor medical students, nurses and fellow colleagues in the department by default without formal clinical leadership training. I had a passion to tutor and I joined the University of Zambia part- time, to coordinate the 5th year clinical medical students. I also coordinated the weekly postgraduate journal club patroned/supervised by the late Prof Krikor Erzingatsian.

When the PDiCL was advertised, I applied without hesitation. We were about 40 students from countries across Africa, Asia and Europe. We had pharmacists, nurses, physiotherapists, radiologists, surgeons, physicians and nutritionists. The combination brought both cultural and professional diversity, and the approach was enriched with wide knowledge base.

Currently, I am involved in the daily clinical presentations by postgraduates/ COSECSA surgical trainees, mentorship and coaching. I also joined the Surgical Society of Zambia (SSZ) executive through which I strongly influence and contribute to the clinical leadership in surgery in Zambia. In the next five years, I see myself being actively involved in education, research and clinical leadership, and additionally, contributing to shaping health organization culture and management.”

Dr Kabongo Mulamba Kizito Changachanga MBCHB, MSc.CRA (Walden), MMED-GS (UNZA), FCS (ECSA), PDiCL (RCSI)

General Surgeon/COSECSA programme director, University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka, Zambia, 2021-2022 Scholarship winner

Speaking about the programme, Eunan Friel, Managing Director of Healthcare Management said: “As a focused Health Sciences University, RCSI is acutely aware of the breadth of skills and behaviours that clinicians need in order to best leverage their own clinical capability and that of the complex health systems in which they work, for the benefit of their patients. As we look at both the public and patient expectations of healthcare as well as the financial and operational complexity of our health systems, it has never been more critical that our clinicians have the personal leadership skills needed to make our health systems truly in service of patients.

“Our GSM seeks to meet the needs of those who support healthcare delivery with a broad range of personal leadership and management skills training.

“RCSI’s proud relationship with COSECSA goes back a long way and we were delighted to work with them to make available the personal clinical leadership training that PDiCL facilitates. The clinical and geographic mix of learners and their shared experiences is a big part of what makes PDiCL so powerful. The COSECSA clinicians contributed greatly to this shared learning experience and I am pleased that their feedback has been so positive.”

More information on the RCSI/COSECSA Collaboration programme is available here

To learn more about the RCSI Graduate School of Healthcare Management, please visit the website

RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.