Tejal Bhalani Shares Importance of AAPI Heritage Month
Centene is spotlighting Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) employees and leaders during AAPI Heritage Month. Tejal Bhalani joined Superior HealthPlan in 2019 as a Utilization Specialty Therapist and is now a Clinical Educator. She is also a member of the St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative Fellows Experience Program (SLBDI) and Centene’s MOSAIC and I.N.S.P.I.R.E Employee Inclusion Groups (EIGs).
Tejal is a physical therapist by background. In the following Q&A, she shares how she applies her clinical skills to training Centene team members, the importance of allyship, and the significance of AAPI Heritage Month.
Q. Tell us about your background and your current role as Clinical Educator at Superior HealthPlan.
A. I migrated to the United States from India in the late 1990s after completing my bachelor’s degree in physical therapy. I then graduated with a post professional degree in physical therapy in 2001 from the University of Florida. I started my career working as a clinical physical therapist and was further promoted to a management position. Throughout my healthcare career, I worked across various interdisciplinary settings and had the opportunity to work with multiple healthcare providers as I pursued my purpose to serve our diverse community. I continue to volunteer regularly at work-sponsored events, my kids’ school, and other non-profit organizations to give back to our community. I also serve as a board member for a local public charter school.
After almost two decades in the clinical arena, I transitioned to a Utilization Specialty Therapist position at Superior to apply my clinical skills and experiences to the next level. Three years later, I came across the opportunity for a Clinical Educator role and I am beyond thrilled to belong to our incredible education, performance monitoring, and medical program specialist team. In my role, I facilitate and assess training programs for our health plan Appeals department for our clinical and management staff in both office and remote settings. I incorporate a variety of training methodologies, including e-learning platforms. I also onboard and mentor new appeal clinicians and support the ongoing development of existing appeal clinical teams. In addition, I monitor, analyze, and prepare status reports, assessments, and evaluation tools. I feel fortunate to be a part of the Centene family as it has fostered and nurtured my ambitions and purpose.
Q. What is the most meaningful part of your job?
A. The opportunity to indirectly serve our members by participating in training the teams who process our member requests. The opportunity to interact, communicate, and collaborate with multiple teams and ensure an effective outcome for our members and providers is rewarding. I work with teams from diverse backgrounds and understand regulatory guidelines and quality requirements from an operational perspective as I train our employees who help members get needed services. The ability to impact the community we serve nourishes and boosts me to excel and perform in a “Superior” manner each day.
Q. Who influenced you most during your career and why?
A. Mother Teresa has been one of the most influential personalities. Her selfless devotion and tireless attitude to improve lives around the world has truly been inspiring to me. I have also been fortunate to have great leaders, mentors, peers, sponsors, and advocates who have been role models in my motivation to excel. I currently also have an excellent mentor who is very supportive and encouraging.
Personally, my husband has been a pioneer in my career. He recognizes my strengths, weaknesses, and skills and motivates me to advance and take on challenges. His work ethic and approach to his personal and work life is inspirational. He truly is my friend, philosopher, and guide in my journey.
Q. How do you feel about Centene’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?
A. Centene is strongly committed to driving innovation through DEI. I am proud that Centene embraces and respects the experiences and ideas that employees bring and share through various platforms and programs. DEI leadership is a shining star of our organization with multiple recognitions. As a current fellow, I also value and commend the St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative (SLBDI) Fellowship program that focusses on enhancing leadership capacity for people of color.
I am involved in multiple EIGs that are Centene’s key drivers for an inclusive work culture. These EIGs partner with the Centene Talent Attraction team to host multiple events. Our Talent Attraction team receives training to become certified Diversity Recruiters. Centene recently achieved a huge milestone and was again named a Top 50 Company for Diversity by DiversityInc. I was excited about the appointment of Sarah London as our new CEO. She has exemplified how Centene supports a diverse workforce right from the top. Our workforce comprised of 76% women and 48% people of color further illustrates Centene’s approach to DEI.
Q. Tell us about why you became involved with the I.N.S.P.I.R.E and MOSAIC EIGs?
A. I wanted to learn more about Centene and be involved with the company in more ways than my assigned role. I regularly visited CNET to stay current with the company news and read company emails and that’s when I heard about the various EIGs. I researched and felt inclined to join MOSAIC and I.N.S.P.I.R.E. I reached out to the EIG leadership and offered to volunteer. I took on a co-lead role and multiple other volunteer roles. I have not looked back since and have loved every bit of my time spent with the EIGs. My commitment, the opportunities available, and my passion for growth have poured into my success within the organization and beyond. A critical component of my ability to participate in anything beyond my title role has been the support I have received from my managers and leadership. Without their support, this truly would not have been possible.
I have learned so much from these roles — collaboration, communication, time management, networking, resource management, operational management, technology, and financial management are key features that continue to impact, improve, and enhance my interaction not only across my team, but across multiple cross-functional areas.
Q. What is the importance of allyship to you, and how can employees be better allies?
A. Allyship is equally as important as DEI. It is very important for engagement with the added benefits of increased productivity, trust, transparency, belonging, feeling of safety, personal growth, professional growth, and longevity with the organization. Employees can be better allies by leaning into the “listen, learn, and act” approach. One needs to improve awareness, educate one’s self, and participate/take action.
For example, if an employee or People Leader notices someone on the team not participating or engaging in weekly meetings or huddles or is underrepresented, they should reach out and listen, learn, be open minded of their perspectives, and create an environment to promote opportunities for that team member to engage, as well as be their powerful voice when needed.
Allyship is an ongoing process of relationship development to ensure inclusion and equity in a diverse environment.
Q. What are your thoughts on the significance of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month?
A. As an individual of Asian origin, it is an honor to have achieved a heritage month dedicated to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Besides being proud, it is extremely encouraging and motivating to hear about the recognitions and contributions that Asian Americans have added in the fields of science, medicine, literature, art, sports, etc. and their unique journey to bejewel the legacy of the United States. It boosts my present and future to reflect on these efforts and strive to work toward multiplying and enhancing the success journeys of the past.