Karen Remley Will Listen, Then Lead

Now the top advocate for children's health care, the Fuqua M.B.A. has her eye on access, information, and collaboration.
July 28, 2015

By focusing on the well-being of children today, we’re ensuring the health of tomorrow’s adults, says Karen Remley M.B.A. ’97, the newly appointed executive director and CEO of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “We have a reactive healthcare system—we tackle illness after the fact—but by addressing the physical, emotional, and social health of our children, we improve the overall health of our society going forward.”

The first woman to head the historic organization of 62,000 primary-care pediatricians, Remley calls her new post “the opportunity of a lifetime,” the culmination of a nearly thirty-year career as a clinician, administrator, and leader in both the public and private sectors of the health-care industry.

As an emergency-room pediatrician in the 1980s, she saw families disenfranchised from the pediatric-care system for all sorts of reasons, the most glaring being that when both parents work, it’s difficult to schedule appointments between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. One of her goals at the AAP is to improve access: “I want every child to benefit from the opportunity to have an ongoing relationship with a pediatrician they love and respect.”

But in her first hundred days, Remley plans to listen and learn, just as she did during her time at Fuqua, where she studied the unfamiliar lingua franca of finance and management so she could be a more effective leader at her hospital in Norfolk, Virginia.

She’s optimistic that changes in the field of medicine will reveal new opportunities to solve problems: Once-small private, male-dominated practices have been swallowed by health-care behemoths and hospital systems, and now, more women don the white coats than men. The new generation of physicians may be more amenable to the kind of nontraditional scheduling Remley says would help improve access to primary-care pediatricians.

Parents, too, must be heard, especially on the urgent public- health issue of childhood vaccinations. “We need to listen more to these parents,” she says, “so that we can understand how they’re forming their decision not to vaccinate and why they’re looking for information outside the doctor’s office.”

Remley says she won’t shy away from the polarizing issues that risk children’s health, but her goal is to find answers through consensus. “It’s not always about trying to persuade one side or the other, but finding the common ground.”