October 07, 2020 • By Sydney Charles
For double UCI alumna Pooja Raja (Biological Sciences ’11, FEMBA ’17), her journey to success spans across continents beginning in her native country ––Tanzania.
At age ten, Raja and her parents moved to California.
“It was 1999 when my dad received his green card,” explained Raja. “He could select Florida or California, but since we had an uncle here—California it was.”
Raja and her family started their new life in Orange County. For college, Raja chose to remain close to home, and the friendly atmosphere at UCI drew her in.
Becoming an Anteater
“I applied to different UCs, but UCI just had a completely different vibe,” she said. People were smiling, and if you had a question, they were willing to guide you.”
As a biological sciences major, Raja planned on pursuing a career in medicine after completing her bachelor’s degree.
“I was actually aiming for a M.D/Ph.D. because I was so focused on regenerative medicine,” she explained. “When I graduated, I decided that I wanted to work and save up money before applying to med school so that I could be more prepared for the next phase of my life.”
In 2012, the new graduate was exposed to a new side of healthcare when she was offered a position as an administrative assistant at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.
Raja said: “I had never thought about the administrative side of healthcare. I was much more geared towards the clinical side, and it was like the stars aligned for me to be there at that moment.”
Her new role sparked a newfound passion for business administration.
“While I was there, I focused on understanding leadership decision making—and I realized I enjoyed every moment of that,” explained Raja. “It was also clearly evident that I did not understand a lot of the business side of things, like marketing and finance.”
Leveling Up at the Merage School
Raja returned to UCI and enrolled in the Fully Employed MBA (FEMBA) program to gain credibility as a professional in her field. In her classes at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business, she appreciated the opportunity to interact with students from different backgrounds.
She said: “The professors really make you think. It’s not a busy work situation, it’s exploring what you will see in board meetings and the topics you will have to speak on. They are willing to invest in your growth, and that was beyond amazing.”
With exposure to valuable resources and career connections, Raja was able to secure many jobs during and after her time at the Merage School. While she was a student, she was promoted from managed care analyst to healthcare analytics developer with MemorialCare Health System, and secured a manager role in solutions engineering with Molina Healthcare.
Facing Covid-19 as a Business Leader
Raja began working at her current organization, CareMore Health, in 2019 as a provider network senior manager.
“I leveraged the knowledge I gained at the Merage School and realized that there were open gaps in this organization from an operational and financial perspective,” explained Raja. “I became more vocal with the leadership team about other options, and it was well received.”
As of May 2020, Raja is now chief of staff at CareMore and Aspire Health–– another affiliate of Anthem Health Insurance.
She said, “I get to lead both of these companies alongside our leadership team to make sure we’re delivering what we need to, especially during the pandemic. We have to make sure we are keeping both our patients and associates safe.”
Despite facing a global pandemic, Raja explains that she is grateful to be working in a company whose leadership reflects their mission.
“It’s so refreshing to see leadership that’s actually doing what they’re saying,” she explained. “For me, it’s been very rewarding, and frankly, I get to feel like I’m contributing positively even in this crazy, stressful, scary time.”
For others eager to enter the professional working world, Raja stated: aim high, work hard and persevere.