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Office Hours: Compliance Courses and Careers for Non-Lawyers
USC Gould School of Law

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Learn what it's like to study regulatory compliance and health care compliance — and how to choose if that career is right for you.

Nazanin Tondravi, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Memorial Healthcare System, teaches regulatory compliance and health care compliance courses at USC Gould School of Law in Los Angeles — and is a favorite lecturer among students in the online Master of Studies in Law (MSL) and certificate programs.

In this conversation with USC Gould Professor Anitha Cadambi, Tondravi describes what it's like to be a student in her compliance courses, and gives career insights for non-lawyers who are deciding if they want to pursue compliance jobs. 




Anitha Cadambi: Hello and welcome to office hours with Professor Cadambi. Professor Tondravi, you teach regulatory compliance for us - can you share a little bit more about your class and what you want students to get out of your class?

Nazanin Tondravi: Sure, thank you for having me. My name is Nazanin Tondravi. I am an attorney. I work as the Director of Regulatory Affairs for Memorial Healthcare System. In regulatory compliance, a lot of what I'm trying to teach the students and expose them to is real-life work situations - we have students with a wide variety of backgrounds some with no compliance experience some with a lot, so I really try to address all of those in my class and give them situations that they will encounter as a compliance professional. I think a lot of the students are taking this this program and these classes to determine whether they're interested in a career in compliance, so I really try to show them the day-to-day what they would encounter and the types of decisions they'd have to make in those roles.

Anitha Cadambi: Give us some examples of what types of decisions compliance officers have to make - just a quick snapshot of some types of decisions.

Nazanin Tondravi: A lot of students are wondering if there's a right answer, and II always tell them that no there's not a textbook that you can open and see okay, what do I do in this situation? When there's a breach in information or when there's an investigation within a department what you need to do. In a lot of the situations that they're looking at there is not a right answer or a wrong answer, there's maybe a best course of action so I help them work through which way they should go maybe and what the consequences and the pros and the cons of going each way and a lot of this is through experience. So, I walk through what I would do or what has been done so that they can again get the feel for navigating those decisions. There's also a lot of terminology in compliance, so I work on exposing them to that as well.

Anitha Cadambi: You also teach health care compliance; do you want to share a little
bit more about that class and what you want students to get out of that class?

Nazanin Tondravi: Health care of compliance is unique in the that it's specialized. In regulatory, we go over a lot of different areas, so they get kind of uh exposure each week to different areas. Health care obviously is only focused on healthcare, so in that I use a lot of real-world examples to help them um understand kind of the situations they would encounter. I also go over um the roles I give a lot of information on you know possible roles that they can be looking for in health systems in what they're looking for and again the types of situations and compliance issues they will encounter specific to health care. There's also a lot of terminology and a lot of regulatory bodies in health care, so talking about those and the roles they play and why.

Anitha Cadambi: So obviously you don't need to have a JD degree to work in compliance, so I'm curious how you've worked with non-lawyers in your role as the Director of Regulatory Affairs?

Nazanin Tondravi: No, you don't need to be an attorney and I stress that a lot in my classes so that you know people are not turned off to compliance or think they can't be in compliance because they're not an attorney. We look for a lot of different backgrounds including nursing, physicians, paralegals and also your experience if you've done investigations before in different roles. I think you know the difference between a non-lawyer and a lawyer is just the situations, so if they have other transferable skills that can be used, we look for that as well

Anitha Cadambi: That's great. Do you mind sharing a little bit about your organizational setup and how your compliance team looks?

Nazanin Tondravi: We operate on a system level and then we have representatives at each location as well, so we talk a lot about that. I go through these in class, too, how different places are set up so you know what do we deal with at a system level. I say the 30,000-foot view of keeping the organization compliant and then at the hospitals it's the boots on the ground, those are the people that are out every day that they know all of the staff that they're meeting and they're putting into place those policies and procedures that are at a system level. So again, I also explain to the students you know some people have interest in working at that system level, while some people like being more of the local level at the actual facility. So it’s a preference, and I go over a lot of this in class because if you're someone that likes more big picture and big strategy, maybe a system level is more for you. If you like you know the daily very detailed work - the making sure everything is marked off your checklist - maybe you want to work more at a facility level.

Anitha Cadambi: I'm sure you've reviewed hundreds of resumes in hiring for your department, so one of my last questions for you is what do you look for when hiring compliance officers for your team?

Nazanin Tondravi: Great question. A willingness to learn is always important, those transferable skills. I’ve hired people that have worked in the insurance industry doing investigations. The title on their resume does not say compliance, but when you look at what they're doing day to day, it's very compliance transferable. Motivated and teachable - a lot in compliance is not right or wrong, there's some learning as you go along or it's a new situation you haven't encountered, so it's somebody that's going to be okay with coming and asking the team if they’re not sure what to do here or what you think the best strategy is for this. And of course, competent. Maybe a degree that they have a program like this where they get that specialized training, but I really read their resumes and try to understand what skills will be good. Writing skills speaking skills - we do a lot of presentations - are they comfortable with that? Also how they interact with different groups of people, because in our role we interact with everyone in the organization, from the C-Suite to the people that greet you when you walk in at the hospital doors, so somebody that's able to interact with all of those people on a professional and respectful a manner as well is really important because compliance goes for everyone, it's not um only for certain employees, so it needs to be someone that can interact with all employees at all levels.

Anitha Cadambi: I think those skills are transferable to all professions, so that's a good checklist to keep in mind. I didn't prepare you for this question, but here's my last question: our students absolutely love you and love your class; I want to know what do you love about teaching?

Nazanin Tondravi: I really get excited, and I know they can see it – I really like the subject matter and I picked this career to do compliance, so I think they see my passion for it and I really want to prepare them um for the real world, so I spend a lot of time with them. I mentor them while in class and after class they always come to me, some of them just for advice or recommendation letters. I really want them to think of me as their colleague and someone that they can ask honest opinion of - what do you think about this job? what do you think about this situation I encountered at work? I have some students that are already in compliance, so really building that as I tell them we're all in class together building a professional network. These are people we can go to with questions, including me and your classmates, and we're building our compliance community, because a lot of the times again there's not going to be a book you can go to look at a page and your answer will be there, so they can call me, they can call their classmates, and so building that community is what they like. I also spend a lot of time simplifying the material to make sure that everyone can follow along regardless of their professional experience or their academic background. If they're new to it or not, I spend a lot of time making it accessible for everyone.

Anitha Cadambi: That's great! Professor Tondravi, thank you so much for your time and the insight into compliance, we really appreciate it.

Nazanin Tondravi: You're welcome, thank you. 

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