Meet the Online MHA faculty: A Conversation with JT Thazhathel

JT THAZHATHELCan you tell us the story that brought you to your career path?

My career started in accounting and finance. Entering Drexel University as an undergrad, I knew I wanted to be in this discipline, but didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. I’ve always been a numbers guy and the world of  accounting intrigued me. However, I realized that my career isn’t just about accounting, but also about utilizing the technology that comes with it.

With that in mind, I pursued an internship  at BlackRock, a financial services firm, and developed a passion for technology and coding. I was good at Microsoft Excel and learned automation. From here, I realized that this tool can change the way we do things. 

I also learned how much you can do with an accounting background. You can move into finance, corporate finance, or strategic planning.

Leveraging the skills I learned, I was offered the opportunity to become an employee at BlackRock and worked full-time as a full-time student for the last two years of my college career. It was a little chaotic, but it was well worth the experience and exposure, and launched my career in finance.

From BlackRock, I moved to DuPont to support the performance polymers business, and then ultimately into the world of healthcare at Penn Medicine. At Penn Medicine, I gained exposure to not only accounting, but financial planning, budget, metric tracking, KPI reporting, and more. I try to merge analytics and technology into everything that I do, and develop deliverables that C-suite executives will utilize.

I am now the finance manager at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in entrepreneurship.

Overall, I would describe my career the way my LinkedIn headline does: a professional in finance, analytics, and higher education.

What are the essential traits and experiences for leadership in healthcare finance?

The number one leadership trait is communication and storytelling. The way we communicate financial data and the way we tell a story with the reports and statements we produce is core to being an effective leader. 

Instead of saying, “Here is a bunch of numbers, and this is how we did this quarter or fiscal year,” it’s having the ability to tell the story of what is really going on in innovative ways, such as through an online dashboard through an interactive website, or investing in tools like Tableau. 

The goal is communicating the objectives and expectations we have to our employees and sharing that information across the entire organization. 

What do you wish you knew when you started your career in healthcare? Can you share a story?

One thing I wish I knew before starting my career in healthcare is the nitty-gritty details of the clinical side of things. As a professional entering the healthcare finance realm, we not only need a background in finance and accounting, but also to know how things work from the clinical perspective, like how doctors or nurses really see the world of healthcare.

At Penn Medicine I worked alongside doctors and clinicians to learn their view of the world. For example, if we are tracking patient admissions or revenue, how does it affect what they do or how they do things? Does it make sense in their world?

It’s imperative to understand the big picture of how financial metrics actually affect clinicians’ day-to-day responsibilities. In the beginning, we tend to enter the world through numbers—revenue or expenses. But we don’t know what it means to be on the frontlines. I believe that frontline workers are truly the heroes, and it is important to gain frontline perspectives.

What is essential knowledge for a financial executive in healthcare?

A piece of essential knowledge is understanding the systems and analytics of healthcare, and knowing the design of the system, what it does, and how users respond to it. Is the technology the right tool for what you need? By having that understanding, we can drive the overall mission for an organization.

For example, if we are working on a car with a socket wrench, we can only perform one function. But if we have an impact wrench—an electronic, heavy-duty, power version of a wrench—we can do the job a lot faster. 

Leaders in healthcare finance need to understand and continually assess if our departments have the right tools and technologies to do the job. 

Looking back, what are the catalysts or inflection points in your career?

Working full-time at BlackRock while taking night classes four days a week to finish my degree, taught me that I can do almost anything, and that budgeting time is the most important currency. I learned that I have the ability to do whatever I need, as long as I put in the time and effort. 

If I didn’t go through that process, I wouldn’t have developed grit and perseverance, and wouldn’t be where I am today.

Are you working on any exciting new projects? How will they impact the world?

I’m working on a series of financial literacy workshops and classes for the Wharton School, targeted towards entrepreneurs. The workshop will teach entrepreneurs how to understand the world of finance and accounting, and what it means for their organizations. 

We can only teach as good as our content. One of the projects that I am working on is taking the insights from the world of finance—from an entrepreneurial, small business perspective—and developing it into content college-age students can fully grasp. Our content uses videos, animations, and various forms of e-learning modules. This is a project that I’m really passionate about.

What is your life philosophy or motto?

One of my life mottos is that your career is yours to make, and good things come to those who work. One common misconception is that you have to work in the field of your specific degree, or you are stuck in the industry or company in which you ended up working. But, just because you are in the healthcare industry, doesn’t mean you can’t dive deep into technology or programming or finance or business or entrepreneurship. I believe you can become and do exactly what you want to do as long as you work hard at it and put in the time. 

Why NYU Wagner?

The Online MHA program has an impressive, content-rich curriculum, and support. Students not only have the ability to work at their own pace, but also receive live sessions from world-renowned faculty in healthcare. It’s an absolute honor to teach at NYU Wagner, and I’m excited for the quality of curriculum, world experience, and knowledge that our students receive.

What makes your course stand out? What will students learn from your class that they wouldn’t learn anywhere else?

In Accounting for Healthcare Management, students gain understanding of the financial process at any healthcare organization so that they can pick up a financial statement and make sense of it. 

It’s also about storytelling. The students will not only be able to learn accounting and read financial statements, but they will also be able to tell the story of what is happening in the organization and its direction.

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