Healthcare Rebel Alliance: Q&A with Karen Simonton, CEO OrthoForum

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Karen Simonton is the CEO of The OrthoForum, which is the largest independent association of musculoskeletal practices in the United States. Karen is a certified public accountant who has been working with independent practice groups in various C-suite roles for 30+ years.

Nick Soman, Decent: Why did you decide to work in healthcare? And why do this?

Karen Simonton: One of my college professors from my first round of college (oh yeah, also a Pell Grant recipient because I was fully indigent) called me and said you should interview for this healthcare consulting/accounting gig. Hooked at 21 and have loved it ever since. I love entrepreneurs - all of them. That consulting gig led to a full-time gig with a small ortho group in 1997 that became OrthoVirginia, one of the largest MSK groups in the country. I love orthopaedic sx and all the parts of their groups. Sx are durable with the enthusiasm and energy of 7th-grade boys. They put people back together to fight another day. The vertically integrated groups and community work (hospitals, employers, ASC, sideline coverage, etc) means every day is different. Lots of different people too (and I love people - bonafide connector). I was a member of The OrthoForum in 2009 with OV, became a board member and then ultimately staff of OF in 2020 and now here we are.

Nick Soman, Decent: You studied public speaking through Toastmasters. How did you get into that, and how do you use those skills today?

Karen Simonton: I love to talk. I love to fight authority and the status quo. (John Cougar Mellencamp) At 15, I petitioned the school board and spoke at the meeting. Before TM, my passion wasn't channeled. It lacked focus and if it was an emotional subject, kidney to eyeball chaos ensued. I watched my hell-raising Marine Corp cousin give my grandma's eulogy. She had been his advocate and safe space since birth, first grandchild and only boy. He loved her big. I watched him share his love genuinely and clearly with the bereaved. He didn't break down but he had some moments. I knew then that I had to have some coaching to channel my passion effectively. Invaluable. I use it all the time for the work we do now. We are conference/education heavy. I have testified at the General Assembly, given eulogies, stepped up to speak when the situation was dicey and required some salve, etc.

Nick Soman, Decent: What are the best and worst things about your job?

Karen Simonton: This job, while national, affords me a more flexible schedule with more time at home (remote work). I work a lot but because I am an East Coaster and need to keep some West Coast hours, I get some zen in the morning. That is good ministry for my brain, body, and family. I have a great small team that is member-focused and they are for each and other. Change happens slowly. It makes me a little crazy (even though I was slow to change when I was in a member group). Priorities are hard to change when they are hard to see (direct to employer, a world with less BUCA, etc).

Nick Soman, Decent: You took a bookkeeping class at 16, then became an accountant, a consultant, and now an Ortho changemaker. When you look at your career, what common threads that connect your experiences?

Karen Simonton: If you understand financials, you gain confidence about one important aspect of a business conversation. It allowed me to be in business meetings young/early. I also love small teams doing big things. My first accounting/consulting/healthcare gig was a boutique shop of 7-ish. My current team is 11. You can't beat the energy of that size group where everyone, like Cheers, knows your name. I am a GenX worker, fighter, and I am a woman. I am still fighting internally with having to work harder to get less. Honesty. Universe humor again - old white chick leads 70+% old white dude association. Hilarious.

Nick Soman, Decent: Who else in healthcare inspires you, and why?

Karen Simonton: Melina Davis Martin, CEO of Medical Society of Virginia and Executive for SafeHaven Health. She is the leg of the quadruple aim that will save our physicians.

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