In Conversation with Dr. Mattia Gilmartin, Director of GNLP

Mattia_GilmartinToday we are in conversation with Dr. Mattia Gilmartin Phd, RN, Program Director, Ghanaian Nurse Leaders Program, NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing.

As a Senior Research Scientist and the Director for the Center for Continuing Nursing Education, I understand that you oversee the College of Nursing’s portfolio of continuing education programs for practicing nurses in addition to focusing on bridging the worlds of research and practice in order to design and teach leadership and organizational development programs for nursing and general management audiences. How did you come to work in this field and come to NYU?

My education and experience is focused on executive education for clinician managers and I have an academic background in organizations and leadership. I was recruited to NYU in 2011 to work on a portfolio of projects including directing the College’s Center for continuing nursing education.

You have been described as “a thought leader in the areas of organizational change and health system effectiveness” and have experience working in various countries. How does your background inform your approach at NYU?

The design for the Ghanaian Nurse Leaders Program (GNLP) program draws on my prior experience with designing and implementing leadership programs for clinician managers. The program draws on a number of evidence-based practices to develop leadership capabilities and skills. My prior work in continental Europe has given me a greater appreciation for the challenges that healthcare leaders face and the range of innovative solutions that exist to solve common problems. Additionally, I came into the GNLP with an understanding of the British professional nursing model that is used in Ghana.

I understand that you are the director of the Ghanaian Nurse Leader Program (GNLP) at the College of Nursing, part of Ghana Wins!, which aims to advance participants’ access to evidence-based science and training in leadership and performance improvement. Can you describe how the vision for GNLP developed?

The goal of the Ghanaian Nurse Leaders Program was to improve the management effectiveness of mid-level nurse managers working in the Ghana Health Service. Nurse managers play an important part in organizational performance and quality improvement. In many instances, skilled clinicians rise through the ranks into management and leadership roles, yet they may not have formal education or training on how to be effective managers. It was with that insight in mind, that we set out to develop the GNLP. The GNLP examines leadership at the levels of the self (know yourself as a leader), be a leader of teams, and a leader of organizational change. The basic design for the GNLP was drawn from my prior experience with developing leadership programs for clinician managers. An important component of the GNLP is a 12 month action-learning change project. The participants/nurse managers designed and implemented a change project on their units. Projects focused on foundations for quality like documentation systems or physical assessment skills; improving hand-washing rates; to nurse-led family planning clinics. The change projects developed participants skills in change management and quality improvement/tracking skills. Projects were mentored by faculty at the University of Ghana School of Nursing and the NYU Meyers College of Nursing.

The Ghanaian Nurse Leaders Program began in 2013 and we just completed phase 1 in the summer of 2016. Thirty nurse managers and three faculty from the University of Ghana School of Nursing participated in the program. Our partners in the program include Professor Ernestina Donkor, Dean University of Ghana, School of Nursing and Mrs. Patricia Avadu, Program Coordinator, U of G, School of Nursing; George Kumi Kheremeh, Chief Nursing Officer and Mrs. Eva Mensah Program Liaison, Ghana Ministry of Health, Nursing and Midwifery Directorate. And at NYU, Dr. Yvonne Wesley served with me as the program co-director from 2013-2015 and more recently Dr. Robin Toft Klar has served as the program co-director and faculty lead. GNLP offers cohort-based programming for Ghanaian nurses at the College, involving mentoring, seminars, and tours of  labs, and clinical care sites.

What kinds of goals do program participants and organizers have? How does the programming help participants realize their goals?

A central feature of the GNLP is a mentored, nursing practice change project. Each participant was coached/mentored by a faculty member from the University of Ghana, School of Nursing and a faculty member at the NYU Meyers College of Nursing. The faculty contributed their expertise in both clinical care and best practices in organizational change. The GNLP is a year long leadership development program with two weeks of in-person leadership development and a year-long change project. The first week of the program takes place in Accra at the University of Ghana, Legon and the second week at the NYU Meyers College of Nursing, in NYC. The generous support from the Women for Africa Foundation (Mujeres por Africa) and Banco Santander, made the week in NYC a reality.

A second unique feature of the GNLP was a Nurse Manager Shadowing program created in collaboration with the nursing management team at Harlem Hospital Center, that is part of the Health and Hospital system, one of the US largest public hospital systems. Many of the nurse managers at Harlem Hospital Center are of Ghanaian descent or African, so we had a unique opportunity to capitalize on cultural similarities and create a learning opportunity to compare and contrast the nursing management practices in the US and Ghana.

NYU-Ghana-Nurses_NYU-Photo-Bureau-Creighton-1024x681Who are the GNLP participants? Is it a mix of experienced nurse managers and less experienced nurses? Do they come from public or private hospitals or both?

The GNLP is designed for mid-level nurse managers working in the Ghana Health Service. Thus, those in public hospitals only. Participants are identified through the regional nursing hierarchy as high potential leaders. The 30 nurse managers selected for the program have been in a management role for at least 5 years and must have 15 career years left in their careers in the health service.

Do you maintain contact with participants after the completion of the program?

Yes we have created a “ What’s Up” app platform for the program where the alumna and faculty can connect and maintain their network. The program is designed in three cohorts and we gathered all of the participants in June of each year in Accra. This design feature served to connect the cohorts to share learning and best practices. We have also built strong relationships with our colleagues at the University of Ghana, School of Nursing, NYU Accra and the Ministry of Health Nursing and Midwifery Directorate. And we get an occasional Christmas or Easter card from the participants, which is really wonderful.

What have been some of the best examples of change or growth that you have seen as a result of GNLP?

Many of the change projects delivered improvements in nursing practice or expanded access to quality care in the participants units. I think that all of the participants have grown or learned something about themselves, their leadership styles and their plans for their careers as a result of participating in the GNLP. Over the last three years, many of the participants have received promotions, advanced their education, were invited to participate on regional advisory boards, joined a professional nursing association or were selected to serve as leaders in professional organizations.

Two participants from Cohort 1 stand out in my mind. They are Bernice Mensah and Mavis Torgbor. Ms. Mensah and Ms. Torgbor worked on a project to introduce standardized nurse charting across a large percentage of the nursing units at Korle Bu Hospitals, the largest teaching hospital in West Africa. Based on the success of this project, Ms. Mensah and Ms. Torgbor were selected as members of the founding leadership team for the new teaching hospital at the University of Ghana that opened in September 2016.

Although this is a grand example of the career successes of the GNLP participants, I think that the overall experience and opportunity will have lasting effects both for the individual nurses and for the units that they managed because of the connections to the international nursing literature and best practices we were able to share and discuss throughout the program.

Do you think this program is replicable elsewhere in the world? Or is Ghana especially suited to this type of program?

Ghana was particularly well suited for this program because a number key factors that led to our success. First is the strong partnership that we developed across the Ghana Wins programs to share program designs and best practices, including our partnership with the Banco Santander and Mujeres por Africa teams. Second, the excellent team at NYU Accra under the leadership of Professor Akosua Anyidoho, played a key and invaluable part in supporting program logistics. Third, our nursing partners in Ghana were deeply committed to the success of this program. Nursing in Ghana is undergoing a transformation as more nurses gain bachelor’s degrees and the Health Service develops expertise in clinical quality improvement and population health. A strong nursing management workforce is key to achieving clinical outcomes.

I think that nurse manager leadership development programs can be replicated in other parts of Africa. We learned a lot about nursing practice, the realities and ingenuity that comes with working in a resource-constrained environment, and the ways that the US model of nursing management is similar to and different from the Ghanaian model of nursing management.

Is there anything else you want to share about this program, Ghana Wins!,or working in Ghana?

Working on this program was an awesome experience. I have enjoyed learning more about a new healthcare system and the challenges and opportunities for nurses. I also cherish the professional and personal connections that have emerged throughout the 4 years of the program here in New York and in Accra.