Recent MHA Graduates

Recent SPPD Grads Making Instant Impact in Health Field

By Matthew Kredell

Veeral Shah Veeral Shah

Soon after finishing his Master of Health Administration degree at USC’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development last May, Veeral Shah found himself managing the day-to-day operations of three departments as an associate administrator at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks.

He deals with the department directors, manages the budgets of each department, and reports directly to the CEO and COO of the hospital.

It could be an overwhelming job for a 24-year-old. One of the department directors who reports to him started in that job in 1987, the same year he was born. But he soon found that nearly all of his duties were familiar.

“Once I started working, every assignment I got it was like, ‘OK, I’ve already done that,’ ” Shah said. “Because those were the same projects we picked up in the MHA program.”

Eesha Chakravartty Eesha Chakravartty

Eesha Chakravartty, Rachel Liberatore, Allison Viramontes and Shah are four recent MHA graduates to discover that their real-world class projects and 1,000 hours in an administrative residency left them uniquely qualified to make instant impacts in the field of health management and policy.

Shah said the best part of his experience in the MHA program was the quality of the adjunct faculty, many of whom are CEOs in the industry during the day and teach at USC in the evening.

“It was a huge boost having them around because a lot of our work was project-based, and they would connect us with projects in their own organizations that we would never be exposed to otherwise,” Shah said. “Having that type of faculty available was a huge opportunity for all of us.”

Rachel Liberatore Rachel Liberatore

Shah’s favorite class was “Seminar in Hospital Administration.” A project to develop action plans in response to a real Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations survey was very much like his job in shaping Los Robles based on recommendations from department directors.

Shah and Chakravartty each started at their companies as interns to fulfill their administrative residency requirement. Chakravartty heard about USC’s MHA program from India, where she was born and obtained her undergraduate degree. The residency was one of the biggest selling points in her choosing USC.

Allison Viramontes Allison Viramontes

“When you read the brochure, the 1,000 hours for a residency shocks you a bit, but it is a great stepping stone for a career,” Chakravartty said. “I wasn’t sure if I would ultimately stay in the U.S. to work or return to India, but I wanted to get some work experience in the U.S. while I was here.”

Chakravartty received an e-mail from former MHA program director Lavonna Lewis advertising an internship at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. After a little over a year on the job, she was converted to her full-time position of project manager in October, two months before completing her degree.

As project manager, she processes data to determine how to make operational processes more efficient, cut costs, cut waste and develop new strategies. Coming from India, Chakravartty was unfamiliar with the U.S. healthcare system.

“SPPD gave me a good foundation of knowing how U.S. healthcare works and how hospitals run over here,” Chakravartty said. “Being an international student, that was very helpful to me and gave me the knowledge necessary to apply for a job here.”

Liberatore figured she would finish her MHA and work at a hospital just like her mother, Kristi Liberatore, who graduated from USC’s MHA program in June 2010, a semester before Rachel. Kristi Liberatore is now CFO at Linda Hospital in Placentia.

During her residency at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Rachel Liberatore decided she wanted more variety in her work. Through an information session for MHAs and MBAs held at USC, she landed a job as a health advisory associate at PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Liberatore tackles a new project every couple months, going to different hospitals and outpatient clinics that have enlisted PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ consulting and advisory services to analyze their revenue cycles and how patients flow through the system. She often gets to travel, including three months going back and forth from Chicago. Each project is different than the last, but she feels prepared by the diverse curriculum in the MHA program.

“I use the information I learned in the MHA program every day,” Liberatore said. “What’s really nice is that the program goes through the different areas of a hospital, from classes in finance to classes in hospital administration. Every time I turn to a different project, a different class applies.”

Viramontes received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from California State University, Sacramento, and worked as a financial analyst at Sutter Health, a non-profit medical network in Northern California. To succeed long-term in the industry, she decided she needed an MHA degree.

Already working full time, Viramontes, 31, took advantage of SPPD’s intensive course format in order to obtain her degree without hindering her work performance. In the intensive format, a class took place in two four-day blocks from Thursday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., a month apart.

“It’s very efficient and works really well for people who have full-time jobs but still want to get that good education and class interaction,” Viramontes said. “I always tell people that what I learned in the MHA program, I consider the equivalent of being in the healthcare industry for 5-10 years.”

Viramontes gave up her financial analyst position to get a one-year administrative fellowship at Sutter Health. The goal of the program is to prepare the future leaders of the organization. The fellowship just started in June, but already Viramontes is attending the executive meetings.

Likewise, Shah is also thriving in his role at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center. Natalie Mussi, Los Robles COO and Shah’s mentor, noted, “Veeral has done an excellent job here.”

“Each project he was assigned, he took the lead on and followed through to completion,” said Mussi, a fellow MHA graduate (’01) who started in the same position that Shah holds now. :He is not afraid to try new things or take on different projects. I think he has the ability and the demeanor to be a COO.”

Beginning fall 2011, USC’s MHA program will be revised to focus on key areas – management, operations and leadership; health policy analysis; health finance; health information technology; and quality of care – which serve as important health system priorities in the future.