Nursing Leaders Teach Health Systems Strengthening | News

Inaugural cohort in Harvard’s Global Nursing Leadership Program gathers in Kenya for week-long training

November 16, 2022 – In late September, 14 nurses from Africa, all working in senior positions across the continent, gathered in Nairobi, Kenya for a one-week intensive course focused on a serious challenge: how to transform health systems.

The group represented the first cohort of the Harvard Global Nursing Leadership Program’s Certificate in Global Public Health for Nurse Executives. The Global Nursing Leadership Program was jointly launched last May by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in partnership with the African Union and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). to advance leadership in nursing and midwifery worldwide. The program aims to tap into the broad knowledge and experience of nurses who have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and other public health crises and who are in a unique position to shape public policy on disease prevention, promotion of health and population health – and to ensure an adequate role for nurses at the policy-making table as well as a strong nursing workforce.

The program includes several virtual sessions to familiarize participants with Harvard and outline program expectations. It also includes three five-day courses. The September course, led by Rifat Atun, Professor of Global Health Systems, focuses on strengthening health systems. In February, Stephanie Ferguson, professor of the practice of health policy and management and director of the program, will teach a distance learning course on strategies to improve health within and across populations. In June, participants will gather in Boston for a course led by David Benton, CEO of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, on how to analyze and reform policies and regulations so that health systems provide better access to care and better outcomes.

Atun had planned to travel to Nairobi to teach his course, but stopped teaching via video due to testing positive for COVID-19. Still, “it was a really wonderful experience,” he said.

“The course was about thinking about the opportunities and challenges that health systems face,” Aten said. “It helped answer questions like, ‘What should I focus on?’ What should be the priority? What kind of innovation should we introduce? It also covered how to build a coalition to translate policy innovation into practice, how to communicate with and engage stakeholders, and what the role of a leader is in bringing about strategic change in the health system.”

The participants, who came from 11 different African countries, worked in small groups to apply the frameworks learned in class to solve a specific problem in their home countries. For example, Theresa Belai, the National Coordinator for Nursing Education and Training in Ethiopia, is working on a project aimed at reducing maternal mortality in Ethiopia, using strategies such as increasing the skills of midwives in health facilities and improving postnatal health coverage . Nyangi Philemon Ngomu, a registered nurse who currently serves as a national professional officer for the World Health Organization’s regional office in Africa and who previously worked as a South Africa-based regional advisor for Columbia University’s Global Nursing Capacity Building Program, developed a project looking at health and safety risk factors among staff at the UN office in South Africa. Other projects focused on the high mortality rate in Malawi, Lassa fever in Liberia and the increasing incidence of antimicrobial resistance in The Gambia.

Mary Consolata Ishepe Nandili, Director of Nursing and Midwifery Services at Kenya’s Ministry of Health, said one takeaway she got from the course was how to engage stakeholders. “I learned that … you have to look at their level of influence, their interest in your project and how to convince them to support your project,” she said. “I also learned about the importance of good communication when it comes to health information. For example, in rural villages it may not make sense to use text messages to reach people because many places do not have access to the Internet. But they listen to the radio – and information on the radio can reach anyone in the community.”

Ferguson acknowledges program sponsors including the Burdett Trust for Nursing; the Pamela Dipple Chowney family, for tuition and fees scholarships; and the African Union and the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention to provide vital housing and travel support. She also credited the help of program manager Michelle Bell, as well as two faculty members at Harvard’s Health Systems Innovation Lab, which Atun directs: lead fellow Che Reddy, the lab’s associate director; and Kwabena Lartey, Research Associate. The support of Dean Michelle Williams, who helped set up the program and was on hand throughout the week in Nairobi, was also invaluable, Ferguson said.

As for the participants, Ferguson said she found them to be “extremely engaged”, adding: “What I want nurses and midwives to do is think big. Start by thinking locally, then expand to think about your region, the African continent, the world. We will not be able to transform what we do in public health and improve population health outcomes globally if we do not have leaders who think big.”

– Karen Feldscher

Photos courtesy of Stephanie Ferguson

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