Embrace the journey: Emerging Health Leaders alumni share their experiences with incoming cohort

May 15, 2019 | Burlington
Contributed by Mary Taws, Communications Officer

Left to right: Alumni panel members Jennifer Kennedy (EHL 2018), Sarosha Imtiaz (EHL 2017), Adam Eqbal (EHL 2016), and moderator Joe Au-Yeung (EHL 2018).

To kick-off the spring 2019 Emerging Health Leaders (EHL) program, alumni from the past three years gathered at the Ron Joyce Centre to share what they gained from the EHL experience.

Offered by the Health Leadership Academy (HLA) – a joint venture of the DeGroote School of Business and McMaster’s Faculty of Health Sciences – EHL is a two-week intensive for interdisciplinary students and young professionals who want to develop their leadership capabilities and deliver change in the health landscape.

Moderated by EHL 2018 alumnus Joe Au-Yeung, a panel of three graduates shared their insights last week with incoming students just starting their leadership journeys.

“Being a part of EHL exposed me to such a diverse group of people,” said EHL 2017 graduate Sarosha Imtiaz. “As a startup founder, you need to be open to multiple perspectives and if you’re open to them, you’re going to make the biggest impact.”

Imtiaz came to the program in 2017 as she was founding her technology startup, Aiva Labs, which helps businesses optimize their online presence. Since completing EHL, Imtiaz has grown her company, along with her personal leadership style.

“I was still crafting my business pitch when I came to the program,” explained Imtiaz. “EHL really helped me to craft my own story.”

Adam Eqbal, an alumnus from EHL’s first cohort in 2016, agreed that teamwork is a key element of the program, given its importance in healthcare work.

“There’s this exponential change in healthcare,” Eqbal said. “Working in a ward or in an operating room requires an understanding of what other people do and how they approach a given situation.”

Eqbal recently graduated with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) from McMaster, and will be heading into his first year as a medical resident this fall. He notes that the formal and informal relationship-building he experienced at EHL was an important introduction to the value of working within and across teams in the health system.

“During my time in EHL, a bunch of us watched every Raptors playoff game together,” Eqbal said, with a chuckle. “The more we hung out outside of this formal space, the more the experience was enriched.”

EHL 2018 alumna and occupational therapist Jennifer Kennedy broke out into a wide smile.

“One woman in our team bred guide dogs with her family in Burlington,” Kennedy said. “We were all able to go out there and meet a litter of puppies that were born during the program. That was a highlight.”

Raptors games and puppy playtime may not seem like team-building exercises, but these lighter moments peppered throughout the in-residence program build trust and allow for meaningful group dialogue during challenging sessions.

In addition to the teamwork aspect, Kennedy said that self-reflection adds another dimension to the program. Now in the final stages of her PhD in Rehabilitation Science at McMaster, Kennedy stressed the importance of reviewing strengths and weaknesses every day.

“Throughout EHL, you’ll be asked to do some reflection,” explained Kennedy to the 2019 cohort. “Find those moments in the day to do this – there are so many nuggets of wisdom that you’ll pick up from your peers and the facilitators.”

Eqbal nodded in agreement. “Self-reflection is key to move forward, to grow and to mature,” he added.

Importantly, Au-Yeung said that EHL isn’t only about the development that happens in a span of two weeks – it’s a continuing leadership journey that participants are able to build upon.

“Before any job interview, I always looked back at my notes from this program,” said Au-Yeung, who now works as a projects specialist with SE Health. “These notes reminded me of the elements of my leadership style that I discovered during EHL.”

In true HLA fashion, the panel morphed into a big open dialogue featuring insights from new EHL participants and alumni from years gone by. Marlie Valencia, a 2018 alumna and research coordinator at McMaster, shared how EHL helped her to be a more effective delegator in her work.

“We often think of a leader as the person who speaks the most,” said Valencia. “I learned that I was a ‘bridger.’ I thought I wasn’t loud enough, but now I use my strengths to build collaboration on my team and to effectively distribute the work that needs to be done.”

Similarly, Kennedy said that EHL showed her that there are many ways to be a leader.

“I’m not normally vocal either and I wouldn’t have classified myself as a leader before the program,” she confessed.

“But, you learn there are other ways to lead,” Kennedy said, matter-of-factly. “This program is about leadership, but you learn so much more than that. You learn more about who you are as a person.”

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