Dec. 9, 2019

Nurses cultivate personal leadership skills with graduate certificate program

Working RNs share why they're taking the Leadership for Health System Transformation certificate at UCalgary Nursing
Leadership Cohort in Stackable Certificate MN Program
Leadership Cohort in Stackable Certificate MN Program

The first offering of the Leadership for Health System Transformation certificate in UCalgary Nursing's Stackable Certificate MN program appears to be not only working toward helping reimagine the health system, but transforming the lives of some of the students as well.

Cultivating Personal Leadership, taught by nursing dean and professor, Dr. Sandra Davidson, kicked off in September 2019 with a cohort of 14.

Monique Vanderveen, who is Manager of Hospice Access and Operations for the Calgary Zone, Alberta Health Services, says she felt the program was designed with exactly her in mind. “While I have been able to grow my experiential skills, I found that I needed to address an educational gap - the growing need to utilize data (evidence) and creative approaches (innovation) to address arising issues."

Vanderveen says the course has been very applicable to her work. "It is set up to expand on your current knowledge and integrate into your current practice. Every assignment I have had I have been able to apply in the work setting.

"I collaborate with multiple teams to assist patients transition into hospice, and then I work alongside the hospices to maintain and grow their programs. I have had some great discussions with colleagues who are intrigued with the course content and our conversations have generated some thoughtful consideration of how we practice.”

Unit manager able to pursue master's degree, part-time

As unit manager for the acute care, labour and delivery and emergency departments at Olds Hospital and Care Centre, Debbie Carritt enrolled in the certificate because of her interest in pursuing her master's degree part-time and how she values lifelong learning. "It just wasn't conducive financially to return to school full-time," she explains, "so I was excited for this opportunity."

Carritt admits to being nervous to head back to school. "The requirement to write papers, in particular, is not my strongest attribute. But Dr. Davidson is amazing and she set us all at ease."

UCalgary Nursing instructor Justin Burkett's initial reluctance was not around writing papers, but about learning online. Burkett had already tried the online route, starting a distance master's with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK, but withdrew. The blended delivery format of the Stackable Certificate MN Program - a combination of online instruction with traditional face-to-face sessions - he says, works much better.

"There is something tangible that happens during face-to face meetings that I don't think can be duplicated in a totally online setting.  As well, the opportunity to meet the other students that the residency offered in the first few days of the course enabled us to establish friendships and connections that have been pivotal."

Residency is two days at the beginning and at the end of the course on site at the university. Vanderveen agrees getting together with her cohort was "inspiring and motivating. I have been able to maintain great connections with my fellow classmates which I did not think possible."

"Rarely has a day gone by that we don't communicate with each other via our What's App group," says Carritt, adding that comments can go outside course content to personal challenges experienced.  "It amazes me how we have become a supportive team for each other after only meeting once."

Stackable leadership cohort on last day of residency in Fall 2019.

Stackable leadership cohort on last day of residency in Fall 2019.

Blended learning model offers flexibility for students to balance family and work with school 

Leadership for Health System Transformation is a one of the four specializations in the stackable program: all are cohort-based, one-year, part-time and offered through the blended learning model. Davidson says that the leadership stream is well-suited to this kind of instruction.

“Students can really explore their personal leadership style and how leadership – their own and others – influences workplace culture.  I am thrilled by how this cohort has jumped right in to the subject matter and so I know there will be some great new health-care leaders as a result.”

Carritt says while it is challenging to balance a healthy family life and work demands with completing assignments, she plans to finish the certificate and move through the others to complete her MN. “I am not sure where this journey will take me professionally, but I enjoy interacting with staff and colleagues in my current position and have an interest in doing more coaching and mentoring.”

While he is unsure about what is next following completion of this certificate, Burkett knows he wants to elevate nursing by pushing the perceived boundaries of the profession. “I want to be what Dr. Davidson calls a ‘positive deviant,’” he laughs, but adds that, before this first course, he “could never affect the change I wanted to see.  Now I am applying this theory to my practice – I am learning/doing/learning/doing.”

Vanderveen also intends to continue in the program. “The biggest challenge will be which one to choose as they are all interesting! The course work does require commitment, but there is a lot of support and the workload is manageable.

“I am grateful for this opportunity and would encourage any working RN to consider the Stackable Certificate Program if you are interested in pursuing further education,” she adds. “As the world around us continues to evolve, we need committed nurses to help transition our system for a sustainable future.”

Dean and leadership students in stackable certificate program.

From left, Dean Sandra Davidson, Justin Burkett, Monique Vanderveen and Debbie Carritt.

The Stackable Certificate MN Program is offered through UCalgary Nursing’s Graduate Programs Office and is designed to provide advanced nursing practice knowledge and practical experience for registered nurses who wish to acquire specialized skills.