Padma Arvind is the director of the New Jersey Health Care Talent Network (NJ HCTN), one of the state’s six talent networks, established to focus on the specific needs of key industries in New Jersey. From 1990 through 2012, the health care sector has added 180,600 new jobs, while all other industries combined have had a net gain of only 79,800, according to information from the New Jersey Department of Labor. This industry’s resilience, despite economic downturns, makes health care a driver in New Jersey’s labor market. To help promote opportunities in health care, NJ HCTN spearheaded the first New Jersey Health Care Industry Week in collaboration with several of the state’s community colleges and medical institutions in April. Rutgers sat down with Arvind to learn more about her work and vision for the New Jersey Health Care Talent Network.
You have more than 20 years of experience in the health care industry. Why did you choose to work in this field?
I lived in a village in India, where many poor people could not afford decent medical care. Medications were very expensive, and many were not aware of preventive health care measures. Tuberculosis, especially pulmonary tuberculosis, was a big threat to people from poor socioeconomic status, and medications to cure it were very expensive. I always wanted to research and find a way to make medications that are affordable by all. Even today, we still have the same disparity in India’s health care.
This interest in health care research led you from India to the U.S. Please explain this journey.
I received my doctorate from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, with a focus on the autoimmune regulation of pulmonary tuberculosis. From this research, I received the young scientist award from the government of India, an award given to 20 scientists each year for their work in various fields. I came to the U.S. to start my postdoctoral research to study the PIM oncogene expression in acute myelocytic leukemia at MD Anderson Cancer Research Center in Houston, Texas. After two years, I moved to Cornell University Medical Center to pursue my research on MHC gene expressions in colon cancer. I continued to work at Cornell Universty Medical center till 1997.
After a long period of doing research, you decided to change careers. Why did you make the change?
I wanted to spend more time with my newborn baby and was not able to pay much attention to my research projects, so I decided to look for a career that would allow me to have flexible time schedule. I decided to go back to school and learn management skills and graduated with an M.B.A from Rutgers Business School. Immediately after graduation, I started to work as data analyst, but I was not too happy doing market analysis and decided to go back to the healthcare industry. After gap years from molecular research, it really was impossible to get back into medical research, and hence, chose to learn public health. I went back to school to pursue my education in public health at UMDNJ School of Public Health. During this time period, I joined Middlesex County Public Health Department as a public health planner and enjoyed every aspect of community health.
With New Jersey’s growing population, particularly in the number of aging Baby Boomers, the state’s health care industry is growing and projected to continue in its growth. What does this mean for Rutgers students or anyone interested in working in a health care profession?
There is a shift towards preventive health and outreach to diverse populations, which will provide opportunities for bilingual workers and case managers, among other jobs. Unfortunately, many of the health care jobs that are available require prior work experience, which makes it difficult for new graduates to find a job. The talent network aims to fill this void by establishing apprenticeship programs with potential employers.
How can the talent network assist Rutgers and the state as a whole?
We provide insight into future job trends and resources to any student who is willing to work in the health care industry. The network also serves as a comprehensive resource, providing specialized services for employers, jobseekers, educators, and labor professionals. We want to make sure that that the skills of health care’s talent keep pace with the changing demands of this key sector of New Jersey’s economy. Likewise, we offer ideas and suggestions to training providers so their training is matched with industry demand.
The New Jersey Health Care Talent Network has many partners. Can you explain these relationships?
NJ HCTN is funded by The State of New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and housed at Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations. SMLR Dean Susan Schurman is the principal director of the grant for the network. The talent network works with many partners, including Rutgers University College of Nursing, UMDNJ School of Public Health, and UMDNJ’s human resource department. During the New Jersey Health Care Industry Week, we partnered with several community colleges and medical institutions throughout the state. We are fortunate to have received a lot of support.
As you mentioned, the talent network recently spearheaded New Jersey’s Health Care Industry Week. Can you share some of the highlights from this event?
More than 350 people attended the opening ceremony here at Rutgers, where the week was officially declared by the State of New Jersey. Attendees were able to learn about health care trends and tour a “medical village” courtesy of Saint Peter’s University Hospital. The rest of the week’s activities were held in community colleges across the state and were also well received and attended. We were happy to be able to inform the public and students about the many opportunities in a variety of sectors, from physical therapy and nutrition to mental health and laboratory services. We are looking forward to repeating this event next year.
What is the near and future goal(s) for the talent network?
We want to establish internship opportunities for Rutgers students and develop apprenticeship programs for those who want to work in health care, especially nursing programs. We would like to establish a streamlined process for professionals to participate in certification programs, articulate their skills to an AAS degree, and then move on to achieving a four-year college degree. We are also interested in fast tracking veterans into health care professions.
For more information on the New Jersey Health Care Talent Network, visit www.hctn-nj.org.