Margarita Gardea is the manager of health system strategy operations at Harris Health System, an integrated healthcare system that is charged with caring for the residents of Harris County, Texas. Gardea has used her education in science, biology and healthcare to help patients in Harris County navigate the complexities of the healthcare system. Her background of science courses enables her to understand the medical side of her job. Her management and administration courses have taught her how to effectively balance the various stresses of her job. This stellar healthcare employee proves that drive and the right education can land you a great job.

Margarita Gardea, manager of health system strategy operations, Harris Health System (credit: Gillian Kruse)

Margarita Gardea, manager of health system strategy operations, Harris Health System (photo courtesy of Margarita Gardea)

What degree program did you study? What do you currently do?

I have a masters in healthcare administration from Trinity University and a bachelor of science in biology — chemistry and business administration minors — from St. Mary’s University. The department I am in is currently responsible for the 1115 Transformation Waiver for a region of nine counties. This is program that has restructured what were Upper Payment Limit payments for healthcare organizations that see Medicaid and Indigent patients in order to make up some of the gap between uncompensated care and Medicaid payments.

As manager, I am responsible for maintaining close relationships with our external and internal stakeholders, communicating changes to rules and regulations of the program, serving as liason between stakeholders and the state, overseeing general project planning and implementation, and continuing to communicate and educate the community and other stakeholders across the region.

How has that degree prepared you for your current role?

I feel that my education was a vital part of my early success thus far in my field. Probably the most important class I took during my MHA — masters in healthcare administration — program was my leadership course, as this has greatly prepared me for networking and relationship-building skills required for my current position. I also feel that as part of my MHA program, a required residency was vital in my success to implement the book knowledge instilled during the class portion of the curriculum. I continue to attend ACHE — American College of Healthcare Executives — and HFMA — Healthcare Financial Management Association — learning sessions to stay current in the field and continue developing my knowledge base, as I only graduated this past year in 2012.

What advice do you have for people interested in pursuing a career in health?

Healthcare is a wonderful field that challenges you, while leaving a sense of truly making a difference in others’ lives. This is a field that will always exist and is part of every person’s life. You will definitely need to be open to changes and always willing to learn, especially during these times of healthcare reform. Regardless of the politics and debates, this is an extremely exciting field full of different areas of interest. I would recommend doing your research as to what might be your best fit in an area of interest and find a program that focuses on that.

Gillian Kruse is a freelance writer living in Houston. She graduated from Rice University with a great love for all performing and visual arts. She enjoys writing about arts and cultural events, especially little-known ones, to help Houstonians learn about what’s going on in their city. Her work can be found at


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