Redefining the Concept of Health Leadership

Itumeleng Ntatamala, M.D., Community Service Medical Officer

Working in a lower income country’s public health sector is usually fraught with challenges, but this work can be equally fulfilling when a smile is shared…or a life is saved. It was in my first year as a medical intern at Mokopane Regional Hospital in rural South Africa that I found myself faced with either giving into an inefficient system or helping to transform it. Being selected to partake in the Advanced Health Management Programme (AHMP) and Yale University’s GHLI, was life changing as it jump-started an exciting journey of profound self-discovery and professional development.

The AHMP approach to health management is the concept of action research, which requires identifying challenges and then conducting research and continuous self-inquiry to solve those challenges. It was this approach that forced me to reflect on why I was concerned about health systems and how my own values tied into this work — a far cry from my previous notion of leadership that oft times neglected the self and only focused on “getting the job done.” I undertook a collaborative hospital renovation project that saw our hospital’s pediatric ward — which was originally designed for adult patients — morph into a conducive healing environment for children with the support of colleagues, local business and interested community members. Colorful murals and paintings adorned previously dull walls, a kitchen was built to teach parents about healthy ways to prepare children’s food and a secure playground was erected to the children’s delight. The Limpopo Province recognized the transformation of the ward with the Limpopo Province Premiers’ Service Excellence Silver Award for “Innovation in the Public Service.”  

As I reflect on this past year, I started out as a frustrated young health professional in a small town and am now a confident professional with the skills and capacity to lead an award winning team to help improve hospital efficiency and patient care. I am grateful for this work and the group of people with which I get to work. Each day I have the opportunity to redefine my concept of health leadership.

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