Lieutenant Colonel Normunds Vaivads: The Health Management Master's Programme is a Hidden Gem
Lieutenant Colonel Normunds Vaivads, Chief Medical Officer in the Medical Service of the Joint Headquarters of the National Armed Forces (NAF), has two passions in life – medicine and the military. This is the reason why the Lt Col chose to continue his education with the Health Management master's programme offered jointly by Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) and RISEBA.
The programme has provided him with new knowledge and skills in fields such as economics and financial management. It has also confirmed to him that he has made the right choices. Vaivads is a graduate of this programme and a military doctor with extensive management experience in the field who has participated in international missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan and has long been the chief medical officer at the Ādaži Military Base.
Why did you choose to study health management?
Choosing this programme was a conscious and informed decision, as I am a certified healthcare management physician, and this profession requires both residency and post-graduate qualification upgrading training. Since 1999, when I became the Chief Medical Officer at the Ādaži Military Base, I’ve been looking for further education opportunities in medical management.
I was particularly pleased to study this specialty at RSU on a master’s level, since I graduated in the same field in 1997. When I learned that this programme had come about as the result of a unique cooperation between two universities, RSU and RISEBA, with each of them offering the study courses they excel at, I was truly glad to be able to obtain an education suited for my speciality. In addition, this programme is recognised to conform to the healthcare management physician residency programme.
What were the most interesting, or the most useful courses?
I might come across as greedy, but it was actually extremely difficult for me to choose my elective courses because I wanted to attend all of them. It was like getting to a well when you are suffering from thirst, because the courses offered within the programme cover a lot of important areas.
At the beginning of my studies, I already had 16 years of experience as chief medical officer in a healthcare institution, so I had the possibility to assess every course through my own point of view. For example, there were courses in which I did not seem to learn anything new, but I gained confidence and confirmation that what I had been doing so far had been correct. Studying economics and finance was completely new territory for me, because it had not been the main aspect of my education before now. For instance, before taking up these studies, I did not know that there was such a course as Business Ethics. Meanwhile, studying strategic, personnel, or change management allowed me to compare the knowledge I already had on military leadership, management standards as they apply to civilian life, and business management. I was very interested in learning everything about the effectiveness of medical technologies and ways to measure, plan, and apply them. I can, therefore, say that if I had to create a ranking of the best courses, I would need some sort of a specific methodology.
How do you evaluate the programme’s lecturers?
Each course was taught by excellent lecturers who not only presented the material, but were also open and ready to communicate directly with students and answer their questions. They willingly expanded and elaborated on topics of interest. They are truly experts in their field, whose knowledge and skills are very useful for students with different levels of experience.
How did you start working in the field of military medicine and become the head of a medical institution?
I got my medical degree in 1991 and became a doctor’s assistant, but at that time it was not possible to practice military medicine. The USSR was collapsing, and I had no wish to be connected to its military institutions. Military medicine was still only emerging in Latvia at the time, so I decided to continue my medical education. After completing my studies, I started searching for a job. My father was involved in forming the National Guard, and I was offered a job there, but later in 1999 I was transferred to serve at the Ādaži Military Base. Now, I am convinced that the skills that are necessary to become a military physician are twofold, namely, it requires proficiency in military matters and management, and also the ability to treat people in a speciality.
Is it easy for a doctor to be a manager?
A doctor who knows how to treat patients does not always know how to organise the process. In the orchestra, the first violinist does not automatically become the conductor or the director of the opera. Experts in military management know how to lead the military, but are not specialised in medicine. Managing military medicine is a new interdisciplinary field with its own specificities. Furthermore, in our service as military doctors health management is a mandatory competence to be acquired as a course or through other forms of education.
I remember the day in March 1999, when the Commander of the Ādaži Military Base led me to the medical centre and said, ‘You are going to be the administrator here.’ I replied, ‘I am a doctor, my job is to treat patients.’ And he said, ‘You will treat them, but you will also be our administrator.’ It came true and for many years I served as the chief medical officer of the Ādaži Military Base.
Now you are the Chief Medical Officer in the Medical Services of the NAF Joint Headquarters. Does your daily work only involve management, or do you also work as a doctor?
The largest part of my work consists of health management. My duties include overseeing the systematic supply of medical products to the NAF, as well as setting targets and making sure we reach them. I am in charge of ensuring that soldiers have medical support – planning, organising, and ensuring it. As a medical practitioner, an acupuncture physician, I also provide treatment.
You have been on important missions to Kosovo and Afghanistan. What does the work of a military physician entail on such missions?
The armed forces have combat, support, and supply units. The latter transport essential provisions, and there are also medics among them. Our job is to prepare soldiers for service and ensure that they are healthy, because only a healthy soldier will perform well in their duties. We have a healthcare system to monitor, examine, and care for soldiers. Another important challenge is to prevent health problems arising from high-risk professions with a heightened risk of injury, stress, and possible occupational diseases. On international missions, we must of course also take care of those wounded in battles and provide emergency medical care.
It is clear that serving on international missions together with allied forces is a unique opportunity to gain experience for soldiers and also for military physicians. It is a great chance to practice cooperation and be in real-life situations that test one's knowledge and skills.
What do you want to say to students who might choose to enrol in the Health Management master's programme?
Each of my groupmates had a different field of expertise, but I would like to see more doctors among them, because of their extensive knowledge of medicine. In my opinion, this programme is meant for those who already have some sort of familiarity with management. I would not recommend it to those who have just completed their bachelor's studies and just want a master's degree, and think this might be the easiest option.
In Latvia it isn’t always clear what the most suitable place for health management professionals to work in is. Sometimes we still believe that the best doctor will also be the best at organising. I would like for them to work in a professional and efficient manner so that they serve as an example proving that this programme is a necessary investment.
RSU offers the full-time Health Management master's study programme in cooperation with RISEBA to applicants with prior education in the fields of economics, business management or management science, a professional qualification or experience in a management position. In this case the duration of studies is 1.5 years. The programme is also open to applicants without any prior education in the fields mentioned above in which case the duration of studies is 2 years.