Developing Senior Health Leaders in Kenya

Elizabeth Oywer, the registrar of the Nursing Council of Kenya (center), is recognized for completing the Leading High Performing Healthcare Organizations by Dr. Edward Mungai, dean of the Strathmore School of Business in Nairobi, and Joan Mansour, leadership development specialist at Management Sciences for Health. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Four years ago, a national assessment done by the Ministry of Health in Kenya showed that 61% of health managers felt inadequately prepared for their roles due to lack of skills in leadership and health systems management. The assessment report recommended that these gaps be addressed at the pre-service and in-service training levels for health workers and also at the senior management level of the health sector. Recognizing that developing the capabilities of leaders at all levels in the health sector is critical to developing stronger health systems, the assessment advised that the Ministry of Health institutionalize leadership and management as core health service competencies.

In response to these recommendations, Management Sciences for Health (MSH), through the USAID-funded Leadership, Management and Sustainability program (LMS), developed and rolled out an executive leadership and management training program in collaboration with Kenya’s Strathmore Business School (SBS) one year ago. Designed specifically for the senior leaders in the health sector, the program capitalizes on MSH’s Leadership Development Program (LDP) as well as SBS’ expertise in executive education to deliver a unique senior leadership program for the health sector.

The Leading High Performing Healthcare Organizations program, popularly known as LeHHO, is designed to address senior health executives’ “in-service learning needs” – that is their further professional training needs. The program focuses on improving leadership skills and health systems strengthening knowledge and expertise. The program also creates a forum for senior leaders in the health sector to share knowledge, exchange ideas and seek opinions in collaborative, supportive environment.

This is a unique program in it that integrates two learning methodologies to empower senior level health executives to achieve results. The first, the case method, enables participants to deepen their knowledge and understanding about health system management issues, approaches, and solutions by learning from case experiences around the world. The second, the team results process, helps participants to work with their colleagues at their jobs on a specific initiative over six months, during which they apply newly learned leading and managing practices to achieve measurable health system results. This methodology incorporates MSH’s “Challenge Model,” a simple learning tool, to design activities that will lead to a measurable result that contributes to their organizational mission. They receive feedback and support in this process from course facilitators, coaches and their peers.

Elizabeth Oywer, the registrar of the Nursing Council of Kenya, was a participant in the inaugural cohort. During her studies, she rallied her colleagues to work on the development of a website so that all the nurses in Kenya can have an interactive platform to communicate with and learn from the council. The website also included a feature to ensure that nurses who have taken registration exams can access their results via the website.

“I learned new ways of doing things, to be the change I want to see and make a difference,´ said Ms. Oywer, in discussing her experience with the LeHHO program. “The use of the challenge model was very practical and enabled my colleagues and me to focus and achieve results.”

Dr. John Kibosia of Kenya’s Prison Medical Services is another LeHHO graduate. He has been working with Kenya’s government and partners for the last five years to reduce TB and HIV/AIDS in Kenya’s prisons. During the LeHHO program, he and deputy director Dr. Charles Isiaho focused on reducing the security risks and expense caused by referring prisoners to health facilities outside prison premises. After conducting an assessment at five targeted prisons, they identified the main causes of referrals as minor illnesses, injuries, and dental problems. Subsequently, they deployed qualified health personnel and dental officers to the prisons, reducing referrals at those prisons from 70% to 6% in the six-month period of the course, resulting in substantial savings. These prison clinics have now developed a reputation for delivering such reliable, quality care that even staff and residents from the surrounding communities are accessing services there.

The LeHHO program has currently graduated two cohorts with a total of 47 participants. A third cohort of 30 participants is currently participating in the training.

This program is the first of its kind in Kenya focusing on senior leaders in the health sector. Another participant, the CEO of the Metropolitan Hospital, Dr. K.K Gakombe noted, “I have done an MBA but this LeHHO program is different. It gives a practical approach to leadership and management as opposed to the theories I have learned before.”