UL MBA alumni feature

Suzanne Dunne

2020 MBA graduate

So much has changed with the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation continues to develop rapidly. The skills I learned during the MBA enabled me to adapt in real time; to be the strategic, agile, and resilient leader that UL Hospitals and my team need.

When I graduated from UL in January 2020, I could never have imagined the events of the year to come, but when the pandemic hit in Ireland in March 2020, I found the skills I learned during my MBA invaluable. The MBA made me a more effective leader; something sorely needed in these challenging times. It gave me the tools, frameworks, and confidence, to make strategic decisions quickly and the ability to adapt rapidly to the changing needs of the hospitals as we responded to the pandemic.

As Head of Strategy for UL Hospitals, I have had to make some difficult decisions over the past year. My critical decision making skills have certainly been tested as the hospitals’ organization has been repeatedly restructured to match the changing demands that COVID places on healthcare. Yet the skills I learned during the MBA enabled me to adapt in real time; to be the strategic, agile, and resilient leader that UL Hospitals and my team needed.

Building a strategic skillset

I chose to undertake an MBA as it has a strong strategic component, and I was keen to align my education with my career goals

After 25 years in healthcare, I’ve never seen anything quite like the pandemic and I’ve been truly grateful for the strong foundations that the MBA gave me. Having started my career initially as a nurse and working my way up to Director of Nursing level, I developed a wealth of healthcare experience. In 2015, I took the opportunity to work as a strategy manager within one sector of our organization and within a year could see there was a lot of potential to develop strategic planning within healthcare but I needed to learn more.

I chose to undertake an MBA as it has a strong strategic component and I was keen to align my education with my career goals, but I could never have anticipated just how useful it would be.

As the academic partner of the UL Hospitals Group, UL was the natural choice when deciding where to study. I also had an affinity with the university as it was where I completed my nursing degree.

The part-time structure offered further benefits and I really liked how the whole two year course is planned out in advance, with three day blocks in every month. Having set dates enabled me to schedule family life and work commitments around the MBA . The steadfast support of my CEO was a key enabler to completing the course.

Another key reason for choosing the UL MBA was its emphasis on developing and expanding students’ horizons through overseas engagement. The international trip was a key moment for me as I was able to visit a company in the US that had been instrumental in helping me improve services within the UL Hospital Group.

During my time at University Hospital Limerick, I set up a robotic surgery program; the first multi-disciplinary program of its kind in Ireland. It was therefore an exciting opportunity to bring the MBA class over to meet the company that makes the robotic platforms in the USA, to tour the manufacturing plant, the company headquarters and meet with the CEO. The experience was a great example of the cross-fertilization and inspiration that MBA students can provide for one another.

My year group has subsequently gone on to develop long-lasting and valuable relationships, organizing a trip to Russia in 2020 to continue our cultural expansion. And although our travel plans are now on hold due to COVID, we’ve become a close network, providing a pool of innovative and successful people on whom we can all rely on for sound advice in these uncertain times.

Creating a confident and resilient leader

Just as I anticipated when applying for the MBA, the Corporate Strategic Analysis and Implementing Strategy modules I learned at UL have proved indispensable. They have enabled me to become a more confident, focused and resilient leader during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The MBA has really helped in strategy development when it comes to the relationship between our business strategy and HR strategy and practice, and how it also aligns to government policy such as Sláintecare and our academic partner, the University of Limerick as we continue to plan for future excellence in healthcare. While many companies had to scale down, the Hospital Group took the opportunity to significantly expand its workforce across six sites with many specialist skilled workers returning to Ireland and the Mid-West.

My learning on the strategic management of projects has also been invaluable. The UL module on this helped me understand the science and principles of strategic alignment, which has been of the utmost importance during COVID-19 when the hospital has to have numerous projects finished on time. While the pandemic brought many challenges it has also presented great opportunities many of which needed to be delivered within a short timeframe.

Ultimately, the skills and frameworks I absorbed during the MBA helped me to create strategic plans, many of which are backed by a robust reporting system on an ongoing basis. This has been pivotal in providing information to the CEO and Executive Management Team throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interestingly, it’s not just my strategic decision-making skills that have proved useful in the past year; the communication skills I developed during the MBA have also been fundamental. Not only have these tools enabled me to communicate confidently with various management teams, they have helped me to engage with an increasingly busy workforce. Staff are under mounting pressure and yet the MBA empowered me to manage people effectively, to motivate and bring out the best in people through effective stakeholder engagement.

In the current environment it is vital to temper decisions with empathy and compassion in motivating my team. These important ground rules, plus the skills to achieve them, are all things I learned through the UL MBA.

Delivering the tools to realize ambition

Prior to my MBA studies, I worked within one sector of the hospital. I now work as Head of Strategy for the Hospitals Group across six sites, am a member of the Executive Management Team and have developed a dedicated strategy team. I work closely with the CEO on a daily basis and no week is ever the same; it’s a dynamic role and a very rewarding job, particularly when new services are developed for our patients. It’s a role that I could not fulfil effectively without the strong skillset I developed at UL.

Looking to the future, my vision is that every hospital group has a Head of Strategy at executive level, that aligns national strategy to regional service development. My goal is to influence healthcare strategically at a national level. Sure, the COVID-19 pandemic has supercharged this ambition, but much of it stems from my experiences using the frameworks and processes I learned during my MBA at UL.

  • Undergrad Education: Nursing Degree, UL
  • Current Role: Head of Strategy, UL Hospitals Group

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