Teaching systemic leadership to medical students?

In 2017, we introduced systemic leadership training as part of the medical education programme at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. This was the first time systemic work was used in a medical training setting in Groningen and (to our knowledge) one of the first times it was applied as part of the regular medical curriculum.

The idea for this training came about when Dr Joke Fleer and I met for coffee after not having seen each other a number of years, somewhere in March 2016. I contacted her because I was intrigued by her research on mindfulness. At that time, she was starting up an education line in leadership development as part of the medical curriculum at the University of Groningen. While talking, she developed an interest in the systemic work I was being trained in and invited me to develop a workshop as part of this education line for medical students.

Until then, I saw the systemic work and coaching activities merely as a personal interest and as a skill I found useful for my management activities. Thanks to Joke’s confidence and persistence I developed 2 workshops together with the Bert Hellinger Institute Netherlands. In February and April 2017 we did the workshops with 17 trained national and international facilitators.  

It surprised us all how feasible the method was in this setting and how playful and meaningful at the same time the method could be. I became even more intrigued by the systemic approach and the potential to use it with students. Often, systemic work is used in therapeutic settings or in business counseling and corporate leadership development programmes. The idea to use it as a fast way to improve student team functioning, to prepare students for the complex professional context where they will be working in and to learn students to use this systemic perspective, opens up new roads.

So, how to proceed? We will repeat and extend the workshops in 2018 with a lecture and an assignment for the students. For a broad application and further embedding in the regular medical curriculum, the method needs a solid scientific base and we need more insight in what is useful in this setting and how to design the training the best way. There is some research available supporting the efficacy, but the evidence is thin.

To add to this insight and evidence, we recently set-up a collaboration with Dr Antje Schmitt of the section of Organisational Psychology of University of Groningen to evaluate the workshops in 2018 and assess the effect on personal and team functioning. From February 2018, two master students work on this project and collect and analyse data for their master thesis.

This will be an ongoing learning process. My aim is to share our experiences and insights with you. The workshop description can be found in the training material section. Evidently, we would love to hear about other experiences and applications of systemic leadership teaching.

I’ll keep you posted on our progress …..