Olivia Podber, '22

December 1, 2021
Senior gains health care experience, nets job through internship

Quality health care for all people. This idea—simple to state, but complicated and difficult to deliver—has been the driving force behind Olivia Podber’s education at University of Richmond. It also will drive her career when she joins the CVS leadership development program following her graduation in May.

The senior from Atlanta, who is majoring in leadership studies and health studies, completed her Jepson internship remotely last summer as a CVS Health/Aetna general management corporate intern. Specifically, she worked with Aetna Better Health of Kentucky on Medicaid issues. Aetna is a subsidiary of CVS Health.

Podber drafted weekly reports on Medicaid membership and market share, developed a more efficient tool for analyzing and processing the reports, and recommended interventions to providers to decrease care gaps.

After interning with a grassroots health care advocacy nonprofit in summer 2020, Podber said she had some apprehension about interning with such a large health care corporation.

“CVS is number four on the Fortune 500 list,” she said. “I was concerned about the profit motive and wanted to know what CVS is doing to improve the health of the most vulnerable people.”

Her fears were quickly allayed as she witnessed how CVS supported Medicaid patients. Instead of stigmatizing them for their inability to pay for health care, CVS worked to ensure they received the best possible care, she said.

“I saw how many lives were being changed as a result of the company’s commitment to the trifecta of health care—more accessible, more affordable, and higher quality,” Podber said. “CVS used its power and position to ensure the quality of care provided for Medicaid patients was equitable and of a high standard. It would cut off contracts with providers who failed to meet quality standards for their Medicaid patients.”

This kind of ethical leadership resonates with what she has been learning at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies. For example, currently she is completing her Jepson senior honors thesis on the ethics of public health leaders using coercive methods to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates. Leadership studies professor and philosopher Terry Price serves as her faculty advisor.          

“Some argue coercion can be justified on the grounds that it increases vaccination rates and, thereby, community health,” the Richmond Scholar said. “However, coercion erodes trust in two groups that have the lowest rates of vaccination—people who voted for Trump in 2020 and people of color. By eroding trust, coercion undermines the central goal of public health, and therefore, is not justifiable in my opinion.”

Podber said she looks forward to pursuing a health care career as a CVS employee. Through the company’s General Management Leadership Development Program, she will complete three 18-month rotations chosen from a wide variety of areas, such as health insurance, pharmacy innovation, behavioral health, retail, and product development. The four-and-a-half-year program will put her on the corporate leadership fast track.

“During my internship, I experienced how CVS advocates for patients who don’t have a voice in our health care system,” Podber said. “I was able to be a part of that advocacy. Everybody from the executive team on down to the interns took on the goal of improving health care. I can’t think of a better place to start my career.”