The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons maintains a global membership and a commitment to lifelong learning

By: Stephanie Taylor Christensen

Few organizations have experienced the scope and breadth of changes in technology, public policy and educational demands as those in the health care industry.
Karen Hackett retired CEO, and Richard Stewart, COO and CFO, the AAOS

However, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has remained the pre-eminent provider of musculoskeletal education to orthopaedic surgeons and allied health professionals since its creation in 1933.

Today, the AAOS boasts an active member community of more than 39,000 members across the globe.

Here’s how the AAOS has impacted orthopaedists, musculoskeletal specialists and their patients, and how CEO Karen Hackett — who recently retired from the post she’s held for 14 years — says the organization has remained a relevant and celebrated professional organization for more than 80 years.

Karen Hackett retired CEO, and Richard Stewart, COO and CFO, the AAOS

Rooted in education

The AAOS was founded as a nonprofit at Northwestern University in 1933. Sixty-four years later, in 1997, its board of directors launched the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons to expand its reach to include health policy and advocacy activities on behalf of musculoskeletal patients and the profession of orthopaedic surgery.

“Our roots are in education,” says Hackett. “One of the main reasons we began was to share clinical information [among professionals in the musculoskeletal community] to help patient care. We are still actively involved in education, and our members are committed to lifelong learning.”

They’re so committed that AAOS annual meetings typically draw about 30,000 surgeons, exhibitors and health care professionals. This year’s event, which was held in March in San Diego, California, included educational opportunities such as ask-an-expert sessions, instructional and case presentation courses, orthopaedic best practice reviews, and practice management seminars for orthopaedic surgeons.

Hackett says the AAOS’ highly committed member community is a key reason it has thrived over the past several decades, as members take time away from their orthopaedic practices and personal lives to volunteer and contribute.

In turn, the AAOS is committed to listening to and acting on member needs. One example is the organization’s decision to convert its printed content to digital formats to accommodate its members’ changing communication preferences, says Hackett.

“Many of our members are looking for information they can pull up on a phone or a tablet; they’re not as interested in textbooks as they are in being able to access and read chunks of information,” she says. “We’ve spent a lot of time converting information to a digital mode over the last few years.”

The AAOS produces several leading industry periodicals including the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; the orthopaedic news magazine AAOS Now; Orthopaedic Knowledge Online Journal, its electronic-only journal for authoritative orthopaedic knowledge and practice; and a patient education website called OrthoInfo.

Influencing patient care

Over the years, the AAOS has expanded its focus to include advocacy initiatives at the federal and state levels. That has been pivotal to its success — and its vast reach, says Hackett.

“Our members are increasingly interested in advocacy, especially for patient access to care,” she says. “We have an office in Washington, D.C., and one of the largest medical political action committees [called the Orthopaedic PAC]. We aim to help the government understand what orthopaedists do, the value they bring to the economy and issues surrounding patient care.”

Some of the advocacy accomplishments include repealing a law that jeopardized Medicare reimbursements to orthopaedic surgeons, introducing trauma care bills that ensure Americans have access to necessary medical services and successfully lobbying for millions of dollars in funding to support care for extremity war injuries.

In addition, the AAOS provides research support, tools and grant opportunities to continue advancements in the fields of musculoskeletal health and orthopaedic specialty societies for its members.

"To grow in the association world, you must let go to make room for the new things members want, especially when you have limited resources."
– Karen Hackett, retired CEO, the AAOS
Karen Hackett retired CEO, and Richard Stewart, COO and CFO, the AAOS

Culture of inclusion

The AAOS recognizes that embracing solutions and mechanisms that give all people a place in the health care system strengthens its member community and advocacy efforts for patient care. Its leaders are committed to promoting inclusion in orthopaedics by meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse patient population and continuing to diversify the orthopaedic workforce.

“The last decade, our focus has grown to include the international community,” says Hackett. “We have spent quite a bit of time cultivating relationships with international orthopaedic societies in places like South America, China and India. The global orthopaedic community is looking for access to our products, services and education.”

The AAOS’ focus on inclusion is another driver of its continued success. All board- certified orthopaedic surgeons are eligible to become members of the organization, and 96 percent of them join. It also works closely with specialty societies in orthopaedics, such as those focusing on knee or hip replacement, or hand surgery.

“They have a different niche and focus,” Hackett says. “From a unity perspective, we truly believe that we all benefit from inclusion. We have everyone. This presents continued opportunities and, at times, some unique challenges.”

Supporting future growth

One growth challenge came about when the AAOS exhausted the capacity at its longtime Rosemont, Illinois, headquarters.

“The facility was getting dated, and we spent a fair amount of time wondering if we should stop owning and lease, build from scratch or buy something that already existed,” says Hackett.

Most medical associations own their buildings, which was the group’s original goal with its new headquarters, explains the organization's COO and CFO, Richard Stewart. “We ended up financing about 45 percent of the building at a time when interest rates were historically low,” he says.

Several banks approached the AAOS expressing interest in financing a new Rosemont facility. However, the organization’s leadership team wanted to be confident that the bank they selected was interested in building a relationship based on more than numbers.

“When it comes time to borrow from a bank, they usually want your banking business, too,” says Stewart. “They had to justify to us that they could handle our business and help us keep a healthy cash flow.”

Ultimately, it was the “people perspective” that led them to choose Huntington, he says. “We felt like they could handle our day-to-day banking business, and they have.”

Groundbreaking for the new, energy-efficient building, located at 9400 W. Higgins Road in Rosemont, began in August 2013; the space was officially opened in February 2015. The 180,000-square-foot building provides slightly more capacity, but in a more flexible fashion than the previous facility, and houses several orthopaedic organizations in addition to the AAOS.

Karen Hackett retired CEO, and Richard Stewart, COO and CFO, the AAOS

“We have 25 orthopaedic-related groups in the building, some of whom are part owners of it and some of whom are tenants,” Stewart says. “It has brought a lot of organizations together under one roof — and it has made a world of difference.”

The new facility includes a state-of-the-art Orthopaedic Learning Center (OLC), which provides space for orthopaedic surgeons from around the world to learn the latest orthopaedic techniques, along with improved technology, distance learning capabilities and space for future expansion.

Hackett considers the new facility one of the greatest achievements in her 14-year tenure as CEO, and she’s quick to point out that the success was a team effort. “This is the thing we can see and touch that we have all helped build; it’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” she says.

“This is the thing we can see and touch that we have all helped build; it’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”
– Karen Hackett, retired CEO, AAOS (on the AAOS' new headquarters)

For businesses and organizations that hope to enjoy as many years of success as the AAOS, Hackett offers this advice: Be adaptable.

“To grow in the association world, you must let go to make room for the new things members want, especially when you have limited resources,” she says. “Always think about what your members want and need, and what is going to be best for them so you can move forward.”

Hackett is embarking on the next phase of her journey following her retirement from the AAOS. Thomas E. Arend Jr., CAE, officially began as CEO April 1, 2017. Arend will work alongside the AAOS’ board of directors and executive management team to oversee a staff of 250 and manage an annual budget of $60 million.

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A worthy legacy

Karen Hackett’s tenure as CEO of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has ended. However, the foundations she has laid at the organization, and its commitment to serving its member orthopaedists, musculoskeletal specialists and their patients continues.

On her future hopes for the AAOS: “When I joined, and now that I’m leaving, I’m pleased to say the organization is strong, in good financial shape and has very committed volunteers and members. Our volunteers bring expertise we don’t have as a staff, but the organization can execute. We try to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s going on, and we’re very focused on quality.”

On the changing health care landscape: “With the Affordable Care Act and changes that may come with the new administration, we want to help our members thrive in a changing environment. Our D.C. office tries to analyze what’s happened and what will happen. Our goal is to help our members be prepared and take the best care of their patients. We provide them with information that will be useful with their practice, but it will be a challenge in the changing times.”

On staying relevant amid change: “Let go of some of the things you’ve done forever. Take a hard look at things that you need and things that may not be as important today. Make room for new things so you can move forward.”


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