‘Building the future of the DCVA together’

Prof. Dr. Jolanda van der Velden

about the DCVA Leadership Program

The directors of the future can buckle up: they can now register as a candidate for the DCVA Leadership Program. The mentors of this course will enjoy it just as much as the participants, the inventor and organiser Jolanda van der Velden promises. ‘Only if you want to participate in the course that you devised yourself, you know you are on the right track.’

Last week, the DCVA Leadership Program was launched. An important achievement, because talent policy is a crucial part of the joint policy of the DCVA, according to professor Jolanda van der Velden (Netherlands Heart Institute and Amsterdam UMC). Together with policy adviser Daphne Bloemkolk of the Dutch Heart Foundation, she initiated the program. ‘Funding research is of course an important goal of DCVA, but right now, we have to collectively address issues in care and research and connect the partners with each other. I noticed that when we presented the program to the partners, a lot of ideas instantly came up. That really makes me happy. A lot has been put on paper. The people who will follow the Leadership Program will have the opportunity to bring that paper to life and to contribute to the future policy of the DCVA partners.’


How unique is this program? Did you look at other courses where academic and leadership skills come together?
‘We just started what we thought was needed, not looking at existing initiatives. The desire to develop a leadership course comes from my own experience. I think that many experienced scientists who have come to management positions recognise it: without any management experience you one day become head of department or director of an institute. A whole new world opens up for you: the network, politics, how the university and the medical centre work, how research funding works. In short: how to get things done. You can cope, but a program like this would have helped me a lot. We want to turn that around. Not just a little bit, but all the way: the students immediately get to work with real challenges from DCVA partners. They have to analyse, consult and give advice. In that sense, the program is unique, I think. I don't know of any other program like this in this country that is so practical.’

Would you like to participate yourself?
'Yes. And if you want to participate in the course that you devised yourself, you know you are on the right track, don’t you? More than one experienced colleague already came to me asking: can I also participate? Good news for those people: we need mentors. I will be one of them myself. As a mentor you will certainly experience a lot of the program.’

What should we compare the course to? Is it similar to an MBA?
‘An MBA is much more intensive. Let's call it an MBA-light. Participants will not get a certificate. Although, now I think about it, maybe it would be a good idea to arrange something like that. We still have to discover everything. That’s the great thing about participating in the first group: we’re going to think about the second year together. Maybe we should go abroad? See how an organisation is structured at another top institute. The candidates can come up with ideas and wishes themselves. But diplomas are not the objective, we want the students to experience the DCVA feeling, in fact, we want them to shape, develop and share it. You’re actually building the future of the DCVA. It’s truly pioneering.’

Leadership is a very different field than cardiovascular science. How do you ensure that the subject is properly taught?
‘We’ve chosen a very good trainer. She’s not from the cardiovascular field herself and is used to give leadership training to broad groups. We’re also going to invite field experts from our large network, renowned managers who know what they’re talking about. And there is not one way of leadership. There will be a lot of intervision and reflection. Leading is also listening, coming up with solutions together. In addition, many students will already have some experience, by supervising PhD students or starting a business themselves.’

Do you focus on a particular kind of people?
‘I’m very curious as to who is registering. Our goal is to get different disciplines together. We would be very happy with entrepreneurs. Technical people. People from peripheral hospitals. I think in the end we will have a nice mixed group. Personally, I also think the cultural and ethnic background of the students is important. Looking at my own students, I can already see how diverse the scientific world of the future is. I hope that some of those young people from all those different backgrounds also take the step to leadership.’

Afterwards, how can we tell who has followed the program?
‘Hopefully you will recognise them by the friendships they have made for life. If you do something very intensive together, you end up with relationships and good colleagues for life. I hope that twenty years from now, when they’re all directors, they think back and together realise how much they learned back then. For the partners I hope that a lot of concrete advice will be delivered which will contribute to the goals of the DCVA. In five years, we’ll see whether students have ended up in management positions. And whether their advice has led to substantial improvements in healthcare and research.’

One of the most appealing parts of the program is solving practical cases. What kind of cases should the future participants think of?
‘We have compiled a nice list of issues that the DCVA partners are currently working on. Care evaluation is a subject brought in by the NVVC. Looking at costs and effectiveness is another one. The challenge of registering patient cohorts. How do we deal with increasing regulations regarding research projects? Harteraad raised a challenge from the patient's perspective: what do we need to better connect with the perception of the patient? These are all topics that the partners are still working on in their own organisations. Young researchers will immediately recognise some of those challenges: all that paperwork, for example, to set up an investigation. And currently, almost everyone solves these issues on their own; present knowledge is shared to a limited extent. Such a waste of time and money. Directors would like to see these kinds of practical but complex issues solved. Not everyone wants to do research for the rest of their lives. This is different from science, but just as challenging.’

It sounds a bit like the young talents have to solve all the challenges of the DCVA.
‘It sounds a bit like that, doesn't it? But we do want to offer a serious challenge. And they’re not on their own, the mentors participate. It is building the DCVA together. The leaders of the future can now help shape that future. A great opportunity.'

Also intriguing: the description of the course states that you will learn to make decisions and follow up on those decisions. Don’t researchers do that already?
‘The point is: you can keep talking and brainstorming endlessly, but you have to make a decision. As head of department I’ve often attended meetings where I thought afterwards: we already talked about that last time, and again we didn’t make any decisions. And when you make decisions, you must ensure that they are implemented. Sounds very logical, but it doesn't happen very often. We want the solutions devised by the students to actually be implemented in practice.’

Did people already register?
‘Registration for the course was officially opened last week. But of course, we don't start from scratch. We’ve already asked around at the DCVA partners and CVON consortia: do you know people who can do this and who want to put energy into this? Fortunately, we heard that there are already several promising people eager to register. But we explicitly invite everyone to apply. Are you motivated to contribute to the future of DCVA? Then sign up!’

More about the DCVA Leadership Program