Leading at Ethiopia's Largest Hospital

Jemal Mohammed

LMG/Ethiopia Project Director

”If we treat our patients using our sense organs with respect and care, we can satisfy them more... than waiting for the government to install sophisticated medical technologies in our hospital,” said Dr. Wuletaw Chane, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Black Lion teaching and specialized hospital, at the opening session of a senior leadership academy organized by the USAID-funded Leadership, Management, and Governance (LMG) Project in Hawassa, Ethiopia, on January 30, 2017.

Participants from Black Lion Hospital attend the LMG/Ethiopia Project's senior leadership academy. (Photo: MSH)

Black Lion teaching and specialized hospital is the largest public hospital in Ethiopia, with about 5,000 staff and serving as a referral center for more than one million Ethiopians. Dr. Chane, who was a former student at the hospital, became CEO about a year ago, and he mentioned that one of the key challenges he experienced so far in the hospital is neither a lack of funding, nor inadequate human resources, or a lack of infrastructure; but a stiff resistance to change among staff who have served in the hospital for years. However, Dr. Chane continued to express his optimism and commitment that together with his senior management team and all staff of the hospital, they are ready to face any of the challenges and achieve results.

The LMG/Ethiopia Project organized this senior leadership academy from January 30 to February 9, in two rounds for 84 senior clinicians, professors, directors, and managers from the hospital. Each round lasted four days, and the discussions framed the fundamental principles and practices of leadership, management, and governance in relation to Black Lion’s five-year strategic plan.

In particular, participants noted that the five-year strategic plan focuses on how the hospital provides clinical care, teaches programs, and conducts research. The participants applied the challenge model to identify critical challenges to achieving the five-year strategic plan’s goals.

Specific areas of focus included:

  • reducing patient waiting time
  • improving the quality of surgical procedures and services
  • improving students’ performance through practical experience
  • improving clinicians’ communication skills and
  • enhancing quality and timeliness of procurement and logistic support. 

The senior management team believes that positive coaching and keen follow-up will help them solve these challenges.

Participants from Black Lion Hospital attend the LMG/Ethiopia Project's senior leadership academy. (Photo: MSH)

At the conclusion of the senior leadership academy, Professor Dereje Gulilat, who has served in Black Lion for about 30 years including some time as CEO, shared that he has never seen this kind of academy organized in the hospital to connect senior specialists and sub-specialists together to discuss how to improve the hospital’s performance.

He further noted that his participation in the academy helped him reflect on his actions rather than pointing to someone else for workplace challenges he is facing, and that the academy helped him develop skills to align his leadership style with the needs of his clients and students. Similarly, some participants noted that while they are well trained in medical and clinical sciences, their exposure to leadership, management, and governance skills was limited, and the senior leadership academy helped them better understand and practice these skills. After participating in this academy, Black Lion staff expressed their commitment to collaborate with the hospital management to improve clinical services, teaching programs, and research.