Women Making an Impact on San Antonio’s Healthcare Ecosystem

Women in Business, SA's Healthcare Ecosystem

By Blithe Wiley | Photography by David Teran


According to a 2021 study commissioned by the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the healthcare and biosciences sector of the San Antonio economy delivered a $44 billion impact to the region and directly employed more than 180,000 people. Today, one out of five San Antonians works in the healthcare and biosciences industry locally, and this sector is the largest regional economic contributor in the seventh largest city in the U.S.


The healthcare and biosciences sector of the San Antonio community is a remarkably diverse one that offers career paths that span areas ranging from direct patient contact to research positions to even supporting areas such as real estate.


In this article, you will meet four women professionals whose careers represent varied areas of the San Antonio healthcare and biosciences industry.


EstherKwon web

Esther Kwon Chief Executive Officer, Methodist Hospital | Texsan

Esther Kwon was named Chief Executive Officer of Methodist Hospital | Texsan in May 2023. The 120-bed facility offers advanced cardiovascular and orthopedic services in addition to general medical care. Prior to joining Methodist Hospital | Texsan, Kwon served at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin for more than 11 years, including serving six years as its Chief Operating Officer.

“Methodist Healthcare has an exceptional reputation that extends beyond the San Antonio community for delivering high-quality care and service. It’s truly a unique and impactful organization because of its partnership with the Methodist Healthcare Ministries, which allows us to live out our mission of ‘serving humanity to honor God’ both within the four walls of our organization and also in the communities. I was excited to be part of Methodist Healthcare because our mission gives me great purpose personally and professionally.”

Kwon noted that a large part of her job is establishing and communicating a shared vision to the organization that meets and responds to the community’s needs, aligning teams and resources to achieve the vision, and supporting innovation and performance improvement, she explained.

According to Kwon, the size of Methodist Hospital | Texsan allows it to be agile in its responses to the community’s needs. “We are elevating the services we provide to best meet the healthcare needs in the community,” she said. “We are a high-touch, high-service facility where we really get to know our patients.”

“Here at Methodist Hospital | Texsan, we continue to make advancements in our service offerings, particularly in our cardiovascular care. We continuously partner with our expert physicians on how we can advance care through the adoption of new technologies and evidence-based protocols and the elevation of the knowledge, skills, and competencies of our multi-stakeholder care team.

This emphasis on continual workforce development is an integral component of delivering outstanding health care to the San Antonio and South Texas communities both now and in the future. “Texsan is focused on developing nurse leaders through mentorship programs, partnering with community schools to create externships and clinical pathways for ancillary and nursing professions, and providing bridge programs for individuals interested in career transitions within the organization,” Kwon said.



HeatherHanson web

Heather Hanson, President, BioMed SA

BioMedSA is a membership-based nonprofit that was founded in 2005 to accelerate the growth of San Antonio’s healthcare and bioscience sector, create regional economic benefits, and support the establishment of San Antonio as a leader in healthcare and bioscience.

Heather Hanson was named president of BioMedSA nearly four years ago after working in multiple areas of the medical device industry, including research, design, regulatory, manufacturing and clinical trials. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Arizona State University and her master’s degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State University. Hanson has designed medical products and equipment, resulting in 24 patents, and also founded a successful consulting company, Corvax Solutions, to assist companies and entrepreneurs in the development of medical devices.

Hanson is passionate about BioMedSA’s mission to grow the healthcare and bioscience ecosystem in San Antonio. “BioMedSA plays a central role in helping companies develop and expand in the growing San Antonio healthcare and bioscience ecosystem. We also help to bring partners in these sectors together for collaborative opportunities and promote the region and its assets.”

“What originally drew me to the field of biosciences was my desire to have my work benefit other people and improve their quality of life,” Hanson explained. “Today, BioMedSA is helping healthcare and bioscience companies reach their goals by connecting them with resources and other companies for collaborative ventures,” she said. “We’re helping companies that are already here, companies that are coming here, and the community at large.”

As part of its support of the growth of the San Antonio healthcare and bioscience sector, BioMed SA annually honors leaders of healthcare innovation through its Award for Innovation in Healthcare and Bioscience. BioMedSA has also collaborated with San Antonio’s Workforce Solutions Alamo to help local residents identify healthcare sector career paths that are a good fit for them and help them get the specialized education and training to secure such careers.



AmberAustin web

Amber Austin, Vice President, CBRE

Amber Austin is Vice President of CBRE San Antonio, where she specializes in healthcare landlord and tenant representation. In her 20-plus-year career, she has successfully negotiated over seven million square feet of lease and sales transactions.

When Austin relocated to San Antonio from Dallas in 2002, she diversified her portfolio to include working with owners, doctors, and medical practices to maximize the value of their real estate holdings. “My job is to help healthcare and medical practices make their physical assets the most successful they can be,” Austin explained.

Today, Austin manages approximately 230,000 square feet of local healthcare office space in her portfolio. “On a day-to-day basis, I work to attract healthcare professionals to these properties as well as help practices find new locations or expand existing ones,” she said.

She noted the healthcare real estate sector comes with unique challenges. “The construction costs to build or remodel medical space have increased dramatically post-pandemic, resulting in a domino effect on deal structures. The cost to build out medical space was always higher than that of non-medical offices due to the specialized nature of healthcare real estate, but not to this degree, Austin explained. “As a result, landlords have increased rental rates to offset these augmented costs, causing an overall increase in the cost to do business on both sides of the table.”

Austin explained that her part in the local healthcare delivery process is very much a supporting one. “The doctors and medical professionals I work with are the ones who are improving our healthcare delivery systems today. My role is to help them place their facilities in the very best locations for their practices. That way, they can perform their best work and deliver superior healthcare services to our residents.”



MaryLouLugo web

Dr. Mary Lou Lugo, PT, President/Owner, Liberty Rehabilitation

Liberty Rehabilitation was founded in 2002 as a physical and occupational therapy practice. Mary Lou Lugo worked as a physical therapist for several years before acquiring the practice in 2013. Today, she has grown the practice from four to 24 employees at three San Antonio locations and has continued to expand their therapy services.

Lugo became interested in physical therapy as a career after seeing her cousin, who had lupus, become comatose as a result of a medical mistake and also her high school friend who injured her knee in athletics. Lugo saw how both benefited from different physical therapy applications.

“My career path gives me continual opportunities to help patients regain their previous abilities,” Lugo said. “In our practice, we go above and beyond in treating our patients like family. We very much promote the one-on-one relationship.”

Today, Liberty’s therapists hold certifications in a variety of physical therapy specialties, including lymphedema, TMJ, hand disorders, and more. The practice also has geriatric, strength and conditioning, CrossFit, and neurology-certified specialists.

Lugo is proud of the community outreach programs Liberty has established in an effort to help others in the community live healthier lives. “We offer free senior yoga and senior exercise classes at two of our practice locations,” she said. “In addition, we offer a ‘Better Bones Program’ for our osteoporosis clients, where we teach them how to exercise safely. We are also going to be launching our ‘Safe Landing Program,’ which teaches seniors how to fall safely and how to prevent falls.”

She emphasized that she and her staff are a group of specialists who are dedicated to helping their patients get better faster. “To us, it’s all about keeping people moving,” Lugo said. “When you move better, you feel better, and you have a better quality of life. Our overall theme is ‘Move well, feel well, be well.’”

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