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Michelle Lincoln | Ccentric Podcast Series

Michelle Lincoln University of Canberra

Michelle Lincoln | Ccentric Podcast Series

Executive Dean, Faculty of Health – University of Canberra

Michelle Lincoln, a trained speech pathologist, is the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health at the University of Canberra.

Pam Lubrainschik recently spoke with her about the following:

  • Why did you decide to study speech therapy?
  • Can you see digital health changing the academic landscape in the coming years?
  • What do you feel the challenges and opportunities will be for the University of Canberra in the next five years?
  • What do you think the needs are going to be in the industry of the next five years?
  • The university is currently in the process of building new clinical training facilities in Bega, Cooma and Moruya; how do you think these new facilities will benefit the education of clinical students once open?
  • How important is engaging and managing stakeholders to be an effective leader?
  • Who has inspired you the most in your career?
  • When you are recruiting for a senior executive to join your team, what are the key attributes you look for in the person, apart from technical skills and experience?
  • What are your top tips for aspiring leaders?

Why did you decide to study speech therapy?

I would like to say that it was the passion around communication, but it wasn’t actually, it was a naive choice I made as the school. I didn’t really know much about it; I had considered a whole range of things, and I really I’m not really all that sure why I was drawn to it. It was important that it was vocationally driven, that there was a job at the end of it, but largely a naïve decision.

Can you see digital health changing the academic landscape in the coming years?

I think digital health will be and should be pervasive in educational offerings in health and in research. I don’t think there’s a way that anyone is going to be able to avoid that or should avoid it, actually. So right now we’re thinking a lot about how we embed digital health across all of its diversity into all of our health curriculum. So for nurses, physios and all the allied health professionals, because the environment in which they work will be increasingly digital and those skills, that will be a foundation skill, I think going forward.

In terms of research, there are endless questions that need answering and so it will become part of the research questions and the kinds of treatments we design, but it will also become part of the method. How we do our research will be increasingly digital.

And if nothing else, COVID has proven that the only significant research that was able to go ahead; was either about COVID or was through a digital method where you didn’t have to be in close proximity to your subjects. So I think it will be pervasive going forward. The challenges for universities to get ahead of that curve, I think, and to make sure that the graduates are adequately prepared and that means having a staff actually across the process as well.

Do you think in terms of staff, you’d have to bring in expert staff to test teaching methods and design curriculum?

There is about the delivery of the curriculum, which all universities move virtually all their offerings online in the space of two weeks and probably previously thought that might take taken two years. I think the challenge now is that students have been very grateful that we moved so quickly to be able to allow them to continue to progress but their expectations will change over time. So they’ve been grateful and flexible and forgiving, I guess, around that delivery mode but as time goes on, they do have higher expectations, as they should, about the quality of how we teach online.

So there’s a big professional development and that has already started, but this is going to be a really sharp focus on how to teach effectively online. So there’s that aspect of it, about how to teach. And then the second aspect of it is what we teach in terms of digital health across using health system data to make evidence-based decisions in real-time, virtual delivery of services, the use of apps and remote monitoring and all those sorts of things, that it’s actually very helpful. There’s a lot to think about in terms of investigating curriculum.

What do you feel the challenges and opportunities will be for the University of Canberra in the next five years?

Well, let’s start with the opportunities that think maybe a place to start. I think particularly in health, the good story about COVID is that the role and the importance of health professionals in our community are really in sharp focus. What we would expect to see is a surge in demand into health courses, both at the professional qualifying level, but I also think at the advanced training level. So people will be looking to top up their skills and knowledge and to perhaps change course slightly. And so I think that they will be an opportunity there, what will matter is having the right sorts of courses available for what people want to do and they might not be what we traditionally have always thought people would want to do with health.

Understanding that market and what the demand is is going to be really critical. I think that people will be much more likely to consider online learning, in the postgraduate market more than they may have previously; So I think there are opportunities there. For the University of Canberra, our reputation is about graduate employability, people who are ready, practical and applied; we are well-positioned to be able to capitalise on that opportunity.

I think at least in the short term, the domestic market is going to be really important. Reengaging seriously with that, understanding it again, knowing what people are looking for and what they want. I think is an opportunity and it’s a good one. That’s a good story for Australia, we have focused on the international market a lot and so bringing that conversation back around to our domestic market, I think will be important. To me, the logical thing there is that engaging the industry about the sorts of graduates they find they’re looking for and making sure we have the right alignment of courses for them.

What do you think needs are going to be in the industry in the next five years?

I think there’s going to be a focus on health and wellbeing stuff. I think that was coming, but it’s really kind of like a train now. Without a workforce that’s well and functioning well, it’s very difficult to be resilient during change. And so I think there’ll be a really increased focus on that. I think the industry is likely to want shorter bite-size courses, things that give people just in time learning for new areas they need to move into. And I think there’ll be a willingness to support people to do that over time.

I think everybody is going to be interested in infection control and how you design workplaces to that and ways of working. And I think that’s a short term thing, but I think that’s going to be around for some time and expertise in that area is going to be looked for in all kinds of industries.

The obvious challenge for universities is the financial challenge that’s ahead. Yeah.

And it while it’s a challenge, it does give you an opportunity to think really carefully about what you’re doing and consider everything. Everything goes on the table in terms of what should we stop doing, what should we continue doing or what should we start doing? And there’s nothing like the situation we’re in now to really sharpen your strategic thinking. And it gives an impetus to move to the quickly, more quickly than you might have normally. And so that challenge will hopefully unearth opportunities.

I think we’re going to have a challenge, as I said, around online teaching quality of our students and the growing expectations in that space and making sure we can keep up with them or even hopefully get ahead of it.

This is a challenge, and I don’t know how much of a concern it will be, but having had everybody working remotely, bringing people back and rethinking how we work, I think is going to be a challenge. I am naturally a people person; and so I actually like to have people in front of me, while so many of my colleagues how helpful they’ve found it being able to work from home more. So it’s getting that right balance, I think is going to be tricky.

And I also think we went into everyone working from home when we had existing teams and relationships and ways of working in place. And so in a way that facilitated it, we just kept on doing what we’re doing but online. But as time goes on and we bring new people in and we have to build new relationships, I wonder how that is going to go. And it might not be a challenge at all, but it could, around that sense of belonging and a deep level of engagement with the organisation, with the institution and how we get that when people aren’t coming on campus.

That concern surrounds students as well, that if they’re entirely online, it changes the nature of the relationship with the institution.

The university is currently in the process of building new clinical training facilities in Bega, Cooma and Moruya; how do you think these new facilities will benefit the education of clinical students once open?

I think they will be of enormous benefit to our students, our health students but I’m also hoping to our education students and perhaps our business students and other students in the university. I also think they’ll be of benefit to those regional communities. And so for our students, all of them will be able to, in an affordable way, spend extended periods of time learning the practical skills of health in the health system, in southern New South Wales. Accommodation is always a barrier for students to be able to travel, so with the clinical training facilities, we’re building student accommodation, which will be low cost, and of course, those areas of the south coast close to the beach, so students will be able to afford to be there during summer, which is actually the busiest time in the health system. So we’re hoping to be able to embed year-round in an affordable way.

In terms of students learning, being embedded in service in a community, I think is a different way of learning. Understanding a community and their needs, and then the services that need to come to support that is really important; In a different way to what you might learn in a major tertiary hospital. I also think in those sorts of regional placements, students will be offered a wider range of skills and more diverse clients to work within communities, types of health issues that they will get experience with.

The other thing that I’m hoping and we will do some deliberate things around professional education, but also simply being in the same space so the University of Canberra health students will be in the same space as the ANU medical students and potentially students from other universities as well in those clinical training facilities as well; there will be informal professional learning as well as formal learning.  And then there’s the fact that they will mostly be living together in shared spaces, which will also result in a lot of informal and professional education as well.

So in some ways, in my experience, it’s been easier to do in professional education, in regional placements for students. The overarching strategy here is to help Southern New South Wales build their health workforce so they have a supply, reliable supply of nurses and midwives, physios and radiographers, clinical psychologist, the works, which is a challenge for them at the moment. And the way that we need to do that, and we know is that we need to recruit students from those areas into it.

A great clinical placement can change the minds of some students, but actually recruiting students in the regional areas is the best-known strategy. And one of the best ways for recruitment is to permeate those communities with students. Yeah, so they’re on placement, but they’re also in the supermarket, they’re also in the pub, in the restaurants, out in the community, often they’ll volunteer, they might do some career development work in schools while they’re there and so having school leavers have the opportunity to interact with young, interesting, energetic university students, is a really good thing. And having those facilities down through Southern New South Wales will increase visibility and just allow us to do more of that.

How important is engaging and managing stakeholders to be an effective leader?

I think it’s crucial and it’s an integral part of the role. I see it very much as a two-way relationship in that if you want to have a curriculum and research that is going to have an impact and be translated into practise or policy, then you really need to be engaged with your stakeholders because that’s where the ideas come from for what you need to be focused on and ultimately be the ones that do the translation and where you will have the impact.

And so a great stakeholder is someone who can give you frank and fearless feedback and will help you know what’s coming; what they see coming down the track, and so you’re able to respond to that in a timely way. I think that’s absolutely vital. One of the challenges in health is there are just so many stakeholders, and keeping up with all of them can be tricky.

On the other side of that is that sometimes the benefits of a close relationship with a university is not as obvious to stakeholders as you might think it would be, and so it takes time I think for people to appreciate what they might get out of a relationship with the university and for both parties to understand each other, to develop trust and to really be able to acknowledge the strengths and what it might bring to the party each may bring to the other. But that’s really important because we can have an impact through those stakeholder relationships if we ask the right questions in the first place. Yeah, it if you ask questions that have any relevance to them, they’ll ignore what you thought and basically be fair enough, actually. But if you get that relationship right, then you have this amazing and really impactful way of changing things. And of course, you both want the same thing in that context. You both might want a better service delivery model or you both might want some technology that meets a particular need. And if you’re on the same page and together you can shape that and then do the research that gets the outcome you need that they can then implement, then you’ve got a really great cycle going on.

I do think it’s really crucial and I think sometimes we underestimate how much time we need to get to that to make it work properly.

Who has inspired you the most of your career?

There have been many people just depending on the stage of my career that I’ve been at and I’ve had quite a lot of different mentors the different times for different purposes and different reasons, that helped me get to a different place and so often it’s those mentors; That’s why I would go to them because there’s something about them that’s inspiring me or they’re in the place that I want to be next.

I guess it’s not someone I would want to directly name, but I make sure that I have people around me who I can learn from and who helped me create the vision of what’s next.

When you are recruiting for a senior executive to join your team, what are the key attributes you look for in the person, apart from technical skills and experience?

So at a senior level, it’s almost a given that someone has those technical skills and expertise, and so it’s what beyond that they’re going to bring and I am often looking for people who have a really good understanding of the future and where we need to go.

So that ability to move forward and understand how we need to move, Within health we’re changing all the time, things changing so quickly that it needs to be someone who’s not about the status quo and it’s not about meeting accreditation requirements or it’s not about compliance. To me, that person needs to have a level of vision and understanding of what’s likely for that professional group or in that area of expertise. And I think that has to be grounded in good knowledge of the sector.

In health more than anything else people need to continue to be engaged with the sector through their research and education approaches are relevant; in conversation with those people so that they have that view about this is where things are going next.

And then I’m looking for qualities around generosity. I think we just have to be generous. I think they have to want to facilitate and help other people in their careers and be interested actually far more in other people than themselves. It’s hard to interview for that quality, but that’s really important to me.

And then I guess things that you hear lots of people say, I think it is really important that people can take a team role and institutional perspective. While we are when we have people for their technical expertise and professional experience; at that level of leadership position, you have to be able to step outside of that and take institution-wide or faculty-wide perspective as well.

People skills as well as to encourage innovation. You might not get all of them in one person, but I see some of them.  I think my role as a leader to understand what people’s strengths are and to give them roles and responsibilities aligned to those strengths. If you saw two out of four of those things, that would be great, you could work with that and you have a great relationship and help that person to really fly.

What are your top tips for aspiring leaders?

I think you have to have a strong sense of self and to understand what drives you. And I think this is probably an unusual thing to say but that goes along with a sense of self, and that is to not take things personally. When I say not taking things personally, it’s about having the resilience to not be injured by the things that you that come to you as a leader and to be able to take a perspective about where that person is in their life and their journey and where they might have come from; and then to not take it personally. You have to take feedback, but not to be personally offended and injured by things.

I think we might have talked about that before, as being kind of tough, but I don’t think it’s that because the toughness suggests the deflection and I don’t think you want to do that, you want to reflect about why am I getting this feedback? It is genuine? Is it about me? Do I need to change or is it more about the other person and where they’re at in their life?

For me, leadership is all about people and relationships with people. And so it does take up a lot of your time. I think that might have been something I’ve learned along the way; is that if 80 percent of my budget is salaries, 80 percent of my time, probably should be on people. And that’s OK, if that’s what it is. It’s the conversations you have with people, that’s the work really. It’s how you change people’s perspectives. It’s how you put them in the direction you need them to go. It’s just really crucial. And I think we don’t maybe value that enough.

I think the other thing I would say is to, particularly in academia, is to try things out. You can be an associate dean and see if you actually like that sort of work and you want to keep doing it. And if you don’t, you can go back to a regular academic role. But, you know, give it a try.

All podcasts are available on the Ccentric knowledge page here; including the latest podcast series “Insights from Industry Leaders” and series one, a combination of interviews with both healthcare and academia leaders.

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