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  • Christina D. Warner

Leadership Edge with Chief Executive Officer Rushil Desai, Aetna Better Health of Illinois at Aetna

I’ve had the great opportunity to interview Chief Executive Officer Rushil Desai, Aetna Better Health of Illinois at Aetna, a CVS Health Company.


What brought you to this career path?

My past is a little unconventional. I’ve wanted to be a physician all my life, and I went to the University of Miami as an undergrad. At Miami, I majored in neuroscience and shortly obtained my master’s in Biomedical Science and Healthcare Administration at Rosalind Franklin University’s Chicago Medical School. A year after that, I attended medical school for three years.


In my third year, I became heavily involved with the leadership side of the school but started having a combination of burnout and reevaluation of my career path. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to be a physician.


I ended up taking some time off, worked at the University of Chicago Hospital, then attended Duke University Fuqua School of Business. During my MBA, I was the Senior Principal, and Healthcare Lead of the Improving Health & Outcomes Practice at Trexin Consulting and gained exposure to a variety of payers and providers and challenges that healthcare is facing, such as managing the cost of care, large-scale transformation, moving towards value-based care, and clinical program redesign from strategy to execution.

Looking back, it was essential to have that consulting experience and be able to focus on a lot of different techniques to manage the cost of care and integrate the financial side with the clinical side of healthcare. We tackled questions such as how do providers and payers collaborate together. Where are the opportunities to address the social determinants of health to focus on the most acute patients through population health analytics?


What do you believe in?

As I think through the choices I’ve made in life, I keep going back to the idea of balance. I’m always struggling to find that balance. I think it’s imperative to continually reevaluate your life to figure out the balance between your personal and work life, the things that make you happen, and the things that are continually changing.


Another foundational philosophy I believe in is to hire people who are committed to changing the world through an entrepreneurial spirit. I like to hire people who may not have a healthcare education or background. People can learn the healthcare side, but bringing out the strength to move teams toward a common purpose leads to success. Managed care is new, and I’m learning things daily. But people who come from outside industries bring valuable diversity and thought. In my current team, I have folks with analytical knowledge, learning skills, and a finance strategy background. Adapting to dynamic business


Outside of your team, it’s vital to surround yourself with people who constantly challenge and push you and help you grow. I think that solutions in healthcare are integrated. It’s not a siloed approach, and you have to learn from all different elements—from contracting to networking to quality to medical management to finance. You have to learn all of it and be able to fit the pieces together.


How do we future-proof our career in healthcare?

We are experiencing a lot of mergers and acquisitions in healthcare. You have big mergers like CVS and Aetna. We are mixing pharmacy benefit managers, and we see hospitals mixing with payers. We are trying to figure out what the best blend is, and I think the reason why the healthcare industry is changing so much daily is that we haven’t quite figured out the best mix yet.


So, going back to your question, critical success is having an open mind, having the data competencies, and never losing sight of empathy for our members or patients. Strong interpersonal skills and diverse perspectives, and problem-solving are key. You have to be agile and find solutions quickly.


Everyone in this industry is trying to make a difference in one way or another. We are trying to find the best solutions in the confines of our geopolitical climate and the guardrails of the models that currently exist.

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