Cheryl Forino Wahl ’87 wanted to go to medical school. Until, that is, her rude encounter with organic chemistry sent her career pivoting in a different direction.
It was a direction that landed Wahl on the road to success – and a place on Ethisphere Magazine’s 2013 “Attorneys Who Matter” list.
According to the magazine, the list represents “the best and brightest in the legal field.” Wahl, chief compliance officer at University Hospitals of Cleveland, was one of 15 such officers on the 76-person list. “It’s quite humbling to be recognized among a group of such distinguished compliance professionals,” says Wahl of the honor.
So what does a chief compliance officer do? “My job is to keep our executive team out of jail, to ensure that our leaders’ pinstripes stay going vertically and not horizontally,” Wahl jokes.
In all seriousness, Wahl has the important job of advising UH employees on the hospital’s policies and how those policies relate to each of them. Her department also manages a compliance hotline, conducting nearly 1,000 investigations per year.
“The issues can range from a patient who is concerned that his or her privacy has been violated to an allegation that an employee is misusing their time at work,” Wahl says. “We take each case seriously and follow up on every concern that is raised.”
Deeply inspired by Rich Grejtak’s class at Gilmour, Wahl majored in classical studies as an undergrad at Colgate University. But her interest in medicine never subsided, even if she did “bomb” organic chemistry.
In her Colgate bioethics class with Dr. Jack Mitchell, Wahl had an epiphany; she saw that legal and medical issues could be deeply intertwined. So after graduating from Colgate, Wahl obtained a joint degree in law and medical ethics from University of Pittsburgh.
Wahl’s calling was cemented while in grad school, when her good friend and Gilmour classmate Susan Duffy Fegan ’87 helped land her a law clerk position with her uncle, Jim McMonagle ’62 – then the general counsel at UH. “It was that position that made me determined to find a job as an in-house health care lawyer,” Wahl says. “And here I am.”
But as vital as Wahl’s job is to her, her most important role is that of mom to two boys, 13-year-old AJ and 8-year-old Jack. AJ is in eighth grade at Chagrin Falls Middle School, while Jack is in the Primary Division at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism.
“Being a parent is probably the most challenging and rewarding job in and of itself,” Wahl says. “But having a child with special needs, whether it’s autism or any other disability, creates a whole different level of challenges and rewards. It has certainly taught me to appreciate the little victories and to be grateful for the many joys my children bring.”
Wahl credits her own parents, including her mom, longtime Gilmour Spanish and English teacher Lisa Forino, with endowing her with good values, a strong work ethic, a premium education, and even a keen fashion sense.
But her parents’ greatest legacies to her have been high self-esteem and the belief that she can achieve anything she sets out to do. “That mindset has enabled me to reach for high goals, both for myself and my children,” Wahl says. “And certainly having a child with autism means never giving up and always pushing to achieve more.”
It brings to mind Wahl’s favorite motto, the words of Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”
“I can apply it to so many things, whether it’s holding a pose in yoga, dealing with a difficult situation at work, or raising two wonderful children,” she says. “Giving up is never an option.”