Sonya Castro-Quirino knew she wanted to be involved in the health field from a young age. Raised by a single mother who worked her way through nursing school at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC), Castro-Quirino says her mom would take classes and read to her from her textbooks. “These were my bedtime stories,” she says.
Today, Castro-Quirino is the assistant vice president for compliance at TTUHSC. There, she leads a team of nine people and oversees compliance efforts for the institution’s Lubbock, Amarillo, Midland-Odessa, Abilene, and Dallas campuses, which serve 108 counties. It also happens to be where she went to school. Between her studies and her job there, she picked up significant compliance experience that she brings to her current position.
Castro-Quirino’s career could have gone in a vastly different direction. She graduated from TTUHSC with her bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory science and worked in a lab after graduation. She knew she wanted to either move up in a lab or work in healthcare administration. Ultimately, she decided to get her MBA at TTUHSC, with a concentration in health organization management. It was during this time that she first immersed herself in the world of compliance.
While in graduate school, Castro-Quirino interned for the hospital’s chief financial officer. She was tasked with the responsibility of figuring out what the office should do from a compliance perspective. Compliance was still a relatively new field and the resources were scarce, but Castro-Quirino immersed herself and did everything she could to learn about the field. The work paid off when she was hired by the hospital after graduation.
She eventually landed a job as an analyst with the Office of Inspector General (OIG) in Washington, DC. Castro-Quirino had always lived close to her family and worked in clinical settings, so the move prompted some serious professional and personal growth. “I did see that as a turning point,” she says.
During that time, Castro-Quirino focused on monitoring various healthcare providers that had entered into corporate integrity agreements with the OIG. “I had to learn about different areas of the healthcare industry from the bottom up to be able to give them guidance on what they should be doing,” she says. “So, although that was challenging, it was actually really rewarding because we were on the forefront of what was happening in the field and helping to create and shape some of that guidance.”
Her government work has proved to be an invaluable resource in her career. “I know how they think and how they conduct investigations, so that opened up a lot of doors for me,” she says.
The next door it opened for her was another major opportunity, one that coincided with her personal life. She moved with her then fiancé—and now husband—to Arkansas, and around that time, the OIG was entering into an agreement with Wal-Mart’s pharmacy division. Wal-Mart’s general counsel gave her a call. The company’s audit department didn’t have anyone with healthcare compliance experience, and Castro-Quirino fit the bill perfectly. She was brought in to lead the healthcare audit group, and under her guidance, the department started developing audits to make sure Wal-Mart was complying with the OIG’s agreement.
“I want to bring yet another layer of perspective to our compliance program. I think that will make us a more robust office.”
Castro-Quirino and her team traveled extensively to audit compliance practices in Wal-Mart pharmacies throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. After a year, she became the compliance officer for Wal-Mart’s pharmacy division.
Wal-Mart and TTUHSC are two vastly different institutions, but when Castro-Quirino arrived at the latter, she found a lot of similarities, at least when it came to compliance. “The compliance issues, the training we provide, and the reception that we get to what we have to do and what the right thing is to do are very similar,” she says.
A major project she and her team recently completed was working with TTUHSC’s IT department to implement compliance controls around the security of its information. “The healthcare system is particularly vulnerable to hacks and breaches of patient and student information,” she says. “This past year, we worked closely with our IT department to implement some of those compliance safeguards to protect our confidential and sensitive information.”
Castro-Quirino also notes that compliance efforts are not just the work of one office. While her compliance team provides guidance and training, she sees it as everyone’s responsibility. She and her team encourage everyone at TTUHSC to speak up and report issues when something isn’t right. “That’s the only way you can have an effective compliance program,” she says.
When it comes to her leadership style, Castro-Quirino believes in letting individuals do what they do best and pursue their specific interests. “There are certainly people in the department who have niches and expertise in certain areas, whether it’s coding or privacy or security, and I really rely on them to be our subject-matter experts and let them grow in that way,” she says.
Looking ahead, Castro-Quirino wants to help her alma mater fulfill its mission as a healthcare provider and institution of higher education. She will also continue to develop her team to proactively monitor the school’s compliance activities to ensure it is prepared to respond in a timely manner, should issues arise.
Castro-Quirino is also focused on her own professional development. She’s currently working toward a second master’s degree, this time in bioethics, from Loyola University, and she will then pursue a PhD in the same field. “I want to bring yet another layer of perspective to our compliance program,” she says. “I think that will make us a more robust office.”