Kristy L. Weber, MD, Begins Her Term as President

By: Terry Stanton

First woman to assume top AAOS leadership role presents vision for an evolving Academy

History took center stage yesterday, as Kristy L. Weber, MD, stepped onto the Your Academy 2019 podium and took office as the Academy’s 87th president. Dr. Weber is the first woman to serve in the top leadership role for AAOS.

In her speech, Dr. Weber, professor and chief of orthopaedic oncology in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, acknowledged the progress that her 2019–2020 presidency of the premier orthopaedic organization represents, while recognizing that much work remains to be done before the profession and its culture are deemed truly inclusive of women and other underrepresented groups.

“I stand here today as a proud woman in a profession that is 94 percent male,” she said. “I really loved several different subspecialties in medical school but decided on orthopaedics after I was told that women couldn’t get in to the field. I have never regretted that decision for a minute.”

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Kristy L. Weber, MD, was accompanied by her nieces Marlo and Cora on the stage of Your Academy 2019 as she assumed the AAOS presidency. “We all want to belong to an organization with a sense of purpose—we want to make an impact,” she said.

“The barriers to inclusion are not written in our bylaws—they are less obvious but are certainly real and relate to tradition, culture, and unconscious bias,” she said. “I ask all of us—myself included—to acknowledge our biases, appreciate a different point of view, lean in to the discomfort of change, and let go of the stereotype of what orthopaedic culture has been.”

Dr. Weber addressed these essential issues in more detail, but first devoted the bulk of her speech to her perspective of the current state of the Academy and her vision for its future. She referred specifically to the five-year strategic plan the Board of Directors approved in December 2018. “Your Board spent 2018 understanding the current state of the organization, as well as critical external factors to make the case for change,” she said. “It was a profound, often challenging experience for us.”

She noted that the Academy possesses a “strong brand” and credibility among the industry and its members—with an enviable claim of 86 percent of orthopaedic surgeons joining the organization after passing their Board exam. Yet the leadership saw the need to reckon with an annual survey showing decreasing perceptions of member value and new challenges from competitors in the education space “who provide information in faster, more user-friendly ways.”

The Academy, Dr. Weber said, is an organization of members “who chose the field of medicine, specifically orthopaedic surgery, to relieve patients’ pain and improve their quality of life. However, if you read the mission statement closely, you’ll find implicit tension over whether we primarily serve members … or patients. I believe it means we need to support our members in whatever ways that best allow them to serve patients.” 

The Academy Board knows “that it risks losing relevance among orthopaedic surgeons if it fails to change and be proactive,” Dr. Weber said. “The larger healthcare ecosystem is rapidly changing with empowered consumers, bundled payment plans, and a continued focus on quality- and value-based care. The Academy needs to keep pace and lead the way in musculoskeletal health.”

To that end, the Board set a new Academy vision by considering two questions: “What aspirational change will result from the Academy’s work?” and “Where are we going?” The unifying answer, she said, is a vision of AAOS as the trusted leaders in advancing musculoskeletal health. 

A focus on health
Noting that she believes that “we all want to belong to an organization with a sense of purpose—we want to make an impact,” Dr. Weber said, “The Board is boldly declaring that we will be the leader in this space, that we are trusted, and that we are focused on musculoskeletal—not just orthopaedic—health,” Dr. Weber said. “Note that the vision focuses on health, not disease. This implies our intention to lead in preventing injury, minimizing the progression of osteoarthritis, and understanding bone health.”

Dr. Weber explained that the strategic plan revolves around three goals, which, “when accomplished, will advance us toward achieving our vision.” Those goals are:

1.       Deliver a personalized and seamless member experience

2.       Equip members to thrive in value-based environments and advance the quality of orthopaedic care

3.       Evolve the culture and governance of AAOS’ Board and volunteer structure to become more strategic, innovative, and diverse

Dr. Weber summarized the various ways in which the Academy is striving toward these goals. “Personalized and seamless is what we are used to in the era of Amazon, Google, and Instagram. Our younger members know virtually no other kind of experience and have prioritized this concept of information at your fingertips, often choosing other vendors for their orthopaedic educational needs,” she said.

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When discussing culture within the field of orthopaedics, Kristy L. Weber, MD, advised the audience to “take a little time to get to know someone who does not look like you.”

Thus, she noted, “The Academy has committed substantial resources to develop and maintain an educational platform that delivers high-quality, up-to-date, peer-reviewed information in the way you want to receive it in 2019. The focus is on digital offerings customized to your practice profile, videos to improve your knowledge/expertise about specific procedures, and continuing medical education courses that use the most effective teaching techniques.”

For the goal of helping members thrive, she observed, “As orthopaedic surgeons, we should want to provide care that is effective and based on evidence, when available. Patients and payers want that too. But we also know that there are significant gaps in our data about which treatments and procedures work in individual patients and which do not. In situations where is it not clear, we need to be allowed to use our best judgment and be honest about documenting patient outcomes.” 

For addressing AAOS’ culture and governance, Dr. Weber said that in the coming year, the Board will “define and articulate a new set of core values that will guide our behavior and decision making and shape a new culture.” This goal “requires us to develop a mindset of innovation and to think proactively. We will build a sustainable, successful future for the organization and creatively identify revenue sources that will help enable the Academy to continue to meet the needs of our members.” Informing this entire effort, Dr. Weber said, is recognition of “the need for the volunteer face of our organization to become more diverse and inclusive, with a broad interpretation of those words.”

Dr. Weber spoke in detail about plans for realizing the Board’s aspirations, which pivot on four “key enablers that underlie and support all these activities”: advocacy, technology, partnerships, and communications.

Dr. Weber concluded by broaching and confronting issues magnified in the context of orthopaedic surgery by the very fact that her presidency is groundbreaking. She implored the audience and the membership to be mindful that “we all bring unique qualities, experiences, and perspectives to our practices, leadership roles, and interactions with others.”

The ranks of orthopaedic surgery claim no special exemption from the blight of prejudice and abuse of power and privilege. Dr. Weber noted that a 2018 survey of a subset of 5,600 AAOS members assessed the work culture in the field and revealed that discrimination and bullying have been experienced by more than 50 percent of the men and women who responded, with more than 50 percent of women having experienced sexual harassment in their role as orthopaedic surgeons.

“This is not acceptable,” Dr. Weber said. “We risk becoming irrelevant as an organization and as a specialty if we do not change our culture. It starts small at the individual level and means taking a little extra time to get to know someone who does not look like you. The youngest Academy members and residents among us are better at this and embrace a more tolerant and inclusive worldview. Our differences should stimulate curiosity, not judgment, and we need to celebrate our common interest and commitment to improving the musculoskeletal health of our patients. “Let’s create a more welcoming culture and remove subjective barriers to inclusion, advancement, and leadership in our practices, institutions, and the Academy,” Dr. Weber concluded.

Terry Stanton is the senior science writer for AAOS Now. He can be reached at tstanton@aaos.org.


Dr. Kristy Weber’s Inaugural Address

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