Illustration of healthcare workers


illustration by Daniel Baxter

If our health care system is broken, as so many pundits have claimed, then Mamta Karani could well offer the fix. The young pharmacist, now working at FOCUS Wellness Center, a nonprofit in Newark that has an affiliation with  the Rutgers School of Nursing, is one of the first students to enroll in a new and innovative two-year graduate program offering a master of science degree in health outcomes, policy, and economics (HOPE). Conceived by Christopher Molloy PHARM’77, GSNB’87, Rutgers senior vice president of research and economic development, the program is a joint venture at Rutgers between the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy and the School of Public Health, and one of the first such programs in the United States. It aims to teach students how to determine health outcomes—the benefits, both financial and therapeutic, of health care treatments—in order to create a system that is more effective and more affordable. As our present health care system grows ever more complex, and costs escalate toward unsustainability, the need for professionals versed in health outcomes will be critical.

Ultimately, Karani would like to help set health care policy, and she believes the new program can give her the requisite background and expertise to do that. She’s optimistic that her participation in HOPE will also benefit the FOCUS center, a nurse-managed medical practice devoted to serving Newark’s most underserved populations. “I’m working in a nonprofit clinic that sees about 85 percent uninsured and undocumented patients,” she says, “and I really want to generate health outcomes data to see what we need to do to address the gaps in care.

Kimberly McGuigan, the master’s program’s executive director, says that graduates are likely to find work in both the public and private sectors because HOPE teaches them “to think as if they’re sitting on both sides of the table, and also to think about what’s right for patients.” The program’s first students, she says, are extremely diverse in their goals: “Some have a clear preference to work in the private sector, for a major pharmaceutical or biotechnology company; others are interested in developing community health programs.”

HOPE is multidisciplinary, with  a range of courses that includes “Introduction to Biostatistics”; “Legal, Regulatory, and Ethical Issues in the Pharmaceutical Industry”; and “Applied Methods  in Epidemiological Research.”  “By having two different schools joined together, it offers the best of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences,” says McGuigan. So that students can develop a real-world perspective, the program requires them to complete a capstone project, an independent, faculty-supervised research study drawing on everything they’ve learned. Students are also paired with  mentors who have extensive experience in either the private or the  government sector.

“We wanted to make sure that, before they left the program, our students could begin to develop their own professional network,” says McGuigan. For students like Karani, that’s an essential step on the road to effecting systemic change, and she’s optimistic that HOPE will live up to its acronym, offering her the full tool kit she needs to make a  difference.