October 2003 Bulletin

Karen Hackett, FACHE, CAE

Academy's new CEO is focused, eager to meet the challenges ahead

By Carolyn Rogers

If anyone had told Karen Hackett as a young girl that she would happily spend her career working in hospitals and at health care-related associations, she wouldn’t have believed it. That’s because the Academy’s new CEO spent an inordinate amount of time in hospitals as a child—and she didn’t like it one bit.

Growing up with a disabled brother meant that large chunks of Hackett’s childhood were spent in sterile doctors’ offices and dreary hospital waiting rooms. “My parents couldn’t leave me home alone, so I was always being dragged along to hospitals and doctors’ offices,” she explains. “I had no reason to be there, so I was hopelessly bored most of the time.”

The tedium of those visits left her with a less-than-favorable impression of the medical world. “I thought hospitals were just awful,” she recalls.

Life often takes us down unexpected paths, however, and Hackett’s path eventually led her right back to those dreaded hospitals of her youth. It was years later, while she was looking for a full-time job to work her way through college, that Hackett came to realize hospitals did have a few redeeming qualities, after all.

“I discovered that hospitals were actually a wonderful place to work in terms of availability of hours,” she says. “That’s how I stumbled into health care.”

“It gets into your blood”

After working in the financial and general administrative areas of hospitals for a number of years—earning an undergraduate degree in accounting and a master’s in business administration along the way—she found that working in a hospital environment “really gets into your blood.”

“You feel good about what you’re doing, and it’s hard to leave,” she says. “I really enjoyed working with the administrative staff as well as the physicians and other caregivers.”
When an opportunity later arose for her to work for a health care association, however, “I was eager to try something a little different,” she says.

Association life seemed “small” at first, after spending so many years in the lively, action-filled hospital environment. She adapted quickly, however, and has since worked for two other professional societies and a trade association. She’s also worked as a consultant in hospital finance and hospital administration, and most recently served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

This varied background enabled her to work with hospital administrators and physicians in a variety of different locations and settings. “I believe these experiences have prepared me well for my new role with the Academy,” she says.

After years of working closely with a variety of hospital administrators, Hackett says, “I view working for the Academy as an opportunity to get closer to the individuals who actually provide hands-on patient care.”

First impressions

Prior to accepting the position with the AAOS, Hackett says she did her “homework” and checked out the Academy, finding that it’s a “strong, vibrant organization with an excellent reputation in the health care association world.”

She also took time to talk to “everyday” practicing orthopaedic surgeons, who are not in the leadership at the Academy, to find out what they thought about the AAOS, to determine “what makes them tick” and learn more about why they became orthopaedic surgeons in the first place.

“Through this process, I discovered that the Academy has a wonderful reputation among its members, and that orthopaedic surgeons got into the profession because they sincerely want to help people,” she reports.

With this encouraging knowledge in hand, Hackett accepted the position in April 2003, and stepped into her new role on Aug. 1, 2003. As Academy CEO, she works directly with the Board of Directors and executive management team to oversee a staff of 235 employees and manage an annual budget of close to $40 million.

Her impressions after six weeks “on the job” validate much of what she learned prior to joining the Academy.

“I’ve been very impressed with the quality and dedication of the Academy staff,” she says, adding that she’s also been impressed by the Fellows’ sincere dedication and passion for their profession. “I truly look forward to my opportunity to work with such great leaders, volunteers, staff and members in general who are trying to help people have better lives.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it”

Although she hasn’t been with the Academy for long, it’s apparent that the new CEO already has the highest regard for the Academy’s dedicated, hard-working member volunteers.

“I’ve just been so impressed by them,” she says. “Our volunteers are extremely committed to their profession and to helping the AAOS serve its members. Whether it’s conference calls at night or meetings on weekends, they’re continually making personal and professional sacrifices in order to volunteer their time. When you consider that the time they take to volunteer for the Academy is so often time away from their practices or their family life—it’s amazing. I also appreciate the fact that members will call you back when you need something, and that they’re taking time away from their livelihood to do it. I’m just so impressed—I’ve never seen anything like it in other associations.”

Hackett has already managed to visit a few of those dedicated volunteers on their “home turf.” In an attempt to get to know some of the Academy’s ‘core’ volunteers, Hackett is scheduling on-site visits with several AAOS members in her first months. She’s already made the trip to Boston to visit AAOS President James H. Herndon, MD.

“My goal is not only to get to know the volunteers better, but to gain a greater understanding of the challenges they face by observing them in their work environment, and use that knowledge to better serve our members’ needs,” she explains.

Upcoming challenges call for foresight, responsiveness, fiscal responsibility

These initial positive experiences have fueled Hackett’s enthusiasm for the task at hand. Although her tenure has just begun, she’s laying the groundwork to meet the challenges that lie ahead for the Academy and for orthopaedic surgeons in general.

“As I look to the future, one of the critical challenges we will continue to face is the constantly changing, dynamic nature of the health care environment,” she says. “Through education and advocacy, we have to help our members cope with these changes as they arise, whether they be reimbursement, administrative, or more clinical, technological changes and advances.”

This task will be especially challenging, she points out, due to the increasing demands on volunteers’ time. “Although our volunteers are committed to serving the Academy, and do so very well, they continue to have less and less time to fulfill that commitment,” she says.

Also, like most other associations, the Academy is facing competition from sources that didn’t exist several years ago, she says. “So we have to continually strive to be the most valuable resource for education and information to our members.”

The professional liability crisis and “the undeniable need for reform” in this area is another issue of major import to orthopaedic surgeons, she says. “The Academy and its members are working hard right now to try and make those reforms a reality.”
Aware of these and other pertinent issues looming on the horizon for the Academy, Hackett is clearly focused on her priorities.

“Our challenge is to continually add value to all that we do for our members, and to do it in a fiscally responsible manner,” she says. “If we want our members to be loyal and aligned with us as an organization, we have to continue to demonstrate that value.”

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