Dorothy Wiley Nursing and Health Leaders Institute
Canada’s health care system is the envy of the world over, with leaders in medicine, research, surgery, and nursing. The foundation of this, and any, system, is, of course, education, and we here at CBJ are proud to feature on one of the best leadership development initiatives in the country, whose work has contributed greatly to the standard of care to patients in Canada.
Described as “a National Treasure” by the Canadian Nurses Association, the Dorothy Wiley Nursing and Health Leaders Institute (DWNHLI) was created in 2001 from a need for opportunities for leadership development for nurses. The objective was to prepare nurses to lead amidst the evolving challenges of complex health care systems and structures, to develop new modes of leadership and accountability, and to promote mentoring and retention. It is a two-part, seven-day, inter-professional, residential leadership Institute with an impressive cadre of highly respected speakers and facilitators.
With the improvement of the entire healthcare system in mind, the Nursing Secretariat of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care provided the starting capital to U of T’s Nursing Effectiveness, Utilization, and Outcomes Research Unit to create a Nursing Leadership Institute in Ontario.
Judith Skelton-Green, Beverly Simpson and Julia Scott are the three independent nursing consultants who developed the DWNHLI curriculum. “Kathleen MacMillan was the Chief Nursing Officer in Ontario at the time of the Ministry grant”. Simpson, Skelton-Green, Scott & O’Brien-Pallas (2002) Building Capacity in Nursing: Development of a Leadership Institute, Canadian Journal of Nursing Leadership, 15(3), 22-27) describes the process undertaken to develop the DWNHLI. Skelton-Green and Simpson both have continued their own practises alongside work at DWNHLI, while Scott now works as Vice President of Patient Services and is Chief Nurse Executive at Markham Stouffville Hospital.
From the beginning, says Skelton Green, “we strove to develop more and better leaders in health care across Canada. “There was [at the time] a fair number of opportunities for people in senior roles to understand leadership and how it was changing,” says Simpson, “but less so for directors, managers and informal leaders, and so we strove to put together an institute that would help people define what leadership is and look at their own personal development and opportunities to lead change in their organizations.”
The program was in high demand from the outset, with the nursing institute initially offering courses twice a year to 96 participants. In 2005, a separate, but similar, offering was developed for all health leaders. Today the programs are combined and offered annually, surviving the widespread cutbacks in health care in recent years. Since its inception, no less than 2,200 established and emerging health care leaders from across the country have attended the DWNHLI. In only its third year, the DWNHLI won the Ontario Hospital Association’s Ted Feedman Award for Innovation in Education
When asked what makes the DWNHLI so unique and effective, Simpson cites the experiential learning framework, an educational paradigm that favours experience over didactic instruction. “We designed the whole institute using an experiential design, so…that participants get an introduction to a piece of theory or curriculum about leadership and are then presented with an opportunity to apply the theory in an exercise or activity.
“We also developed a conceptual framework that is theory-based and looks at what it takes to be a leader in health care,” Skelton-Green continues. In the centre of this conceptual framework are three core areas of knowledge or expertise: Professional Competencies, Leadership Practices and Use of Self. The “Leadership Practices” are anchored in Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s work, described in The Leadership Challenge (4th Edition, 2007). “The Use of Self” focuses on effective use of the leader’s time and skills, and is anchored in the theory base of emotional intelligence. The framework then demonstrates that the three aspects of core knowledge and expertise are exercised through collaborative relationships to deliver client-centred care.
The program reaps benefits to its participants, such as Melissa Dougherty, Director Professional Practice, Queensway Carleton Hospital.
“The DWNHLI is a retreat for the nurse leaders’ soul; it allows time for self-reflection, refocusing, networking and rejuvenation. I feel a sense of clarity, energy and empowerment to head back to my organization.”
“We build capacity in organizations because employers are required to send two or more people to an individual institute,” says Simpson noting that many organizations have sent dozens of participants over time. “They are asked to come [to DWNHLI] with a project or change initiative that they want to advance back home. We guide them through a framework on change leadership to get that project launched. The organization benefits from the effects of the change projects, as well as from the individual development of the people they send.”
Early in the decade DWNHLI offered leadership learning at a time when few opportunities were offered for nurses and other health care providers—not only has the DWNHLI been an innovator in the inter-professional development arena, it has constantly evolved to meet the demands of the current cadre of future leaders, and has elevated the work of nurses throughout the country, by optimizing the potential of nurse leaders.