Health leader gains confidence in managing change

In fall 2019, when Erin Cherban enrolled in SFU’s Executive Leadership Certificate program, no one could have predicted the pandemic that would follow by spring. Still, Erin says she felt well prepared for the dramatic disruptions ahead, thanks to the leadership training she’d been undergoing.

“I felt less stressed out about change,” explains Erin, a senior health research leader. “I think I’ve done well in this field because I’m okay with change. But the courses allowed me to help other people, and to recognize where I could step up and give others a better opportunity to manage the change themselves.”

Based out of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, Erin serves as chief clinical research officer at the Centre for Health Evaluation & Outcomes Sciences/CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network, which employs about 300 staff, researchers and students. With a new hospital and a new research centre in progress, along with continuous growth within the Centre, major changes were in the works for Erin even before COVID-19 arrived. To prepare, she decided it was time to invest in formal leadership training.

“I wanted to be sure I had the skill set to navigate these changes, proactively and in a way that would work the best for me in my career,” she explains. Juggling two children at home and a full-time career, Erin knew the time commitment to pursue an MBA would be too much. But SFU’s part-time program fit her life perfectly.

Right from the first course, Personal Foundations of Successful Leadership, Erin was impressed. “The course really shows you the areas in yourself you need to work on,” she explains. “The whole course was an aha moment to find your blind spots. Even if I’d taken nothing else, it would have been really valuable.”

She also cites the change management and systems learning courses as particularly helpful in her role, since she works within a large and complex series of interconnected systems that include researchers across Canada and internationally.

“I’ve drawn something out of each course and taken away hands-on tools I could use right away every time,” she says. “The instructors themselves are just amazing. You feel you’re getting the best of their expertise in these courses.”

By enrolling in the full certificate program, Erin was able to take advantage of the opportunity to meet one-on-one with an executive coach and talk through specific problems she wanted to resolve. As a certificate student, she also had the chance to complete a prototype project that would allow her to apply her learning to her own work. Her project involved surveying the views of staff on new COVID restrictions in clinical research, as well as the views of the leaders who had devised the policies.

“Everyone was looking at COVID now as an opportunity to make clinical research better and more streamlined,” says Erin. “A lot of the changes we’d wanted for years and years have happened now because of the pandemic. There were many things staff wanted to keep, while some leaders felt the changes hadn’t gone far enough.”

She plans to share her findings with colleagues within her organization and beyond, as she feels her project will be of lasting value to many clinical researchers. Ultimately, says Erin, the SFU program has been extremely useful in her role as a senior leader within a complex organization.

“Other than my degrees, this was the best educational program I’ve ever taken,” she reflects. “I came away from it a much more confident leader than when I started.”

By Kim Mah