Sail on sailor: Getting to know CEO Katrina Crist

'The infinite value is in relationships'

Katrina CristKatrina Crist, MBA, was recently named the new chief executive officer at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology in Washington, DC. Crist comes to APIC with more than 15 years of experience in health care association management, having most recently served as CEO and executive director for the American Society of Transplant Surgeons (ASTS). While at ASTS, she led the organization to increased visibility and credibility and doubled the size of their membership. Previously, she was Executive Director for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Center for Islet Transplantation at Harvard Medical School/Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston. Crist has expertise in all aspects of association management, with a focus on strategic planning, professional education and certification, communications, public policy and branding. She holds an MBA from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Purdue University. She recently sat down for an interview with Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

How did you get interested in health care in general, and in particular, what did you find interesting and challenging about entering the field of infection prevention?

"My [original] interest was specific to organ transplantation and that's how I entered the health care field. It is a very narrow field but it's also extremely complex, and very team oriented which can be a little bit different than most areas of medicine. That opened my eyes to health care in general. I learned a great deal by way of also moving into running a research center. That involved learning a lot about diabetes, which obviously has a much wider scope, but still within the focus of trying to cure at least Type 1 diabetes through cell transplantation. What I got to see there was really this overarching aspect of clinical care in an acute setting — how hospitals operate. Not only the enormity and complexity of their operations, but the importance of providing good care — how they differentiate themselves from others through elements of marketing and competition. I found that aspect interesting. Then I was asked to come back and head up the American Society of Transplant Surgeons. After about 15 years in the field — during this same time frame — my mother became very ill and had a number of medical conditions. That led to me really learning about health care personally, so I could help her navigate the systems of care.

What really interests me here at APIC is that there are so many practice settings and areas where infection prevention and control really touch us all as human beings. They also touch us financially and economically — how our resources are allocated and what our priorities are. To me, there are so many intersections there. Again, I was personally touched by my mother's experience with having health care associated infections, particularly those related to surgical site infections and catheter associated urinary tract infections. I could see both sides of it, the patient side, the family side and the impact there. But also, I saw what happens in a health care setting and the impact [HAIs have] on costs overall. It is very complex.

What I believe and see is that [infection prevention] is an area that truly can make a greater impact. By reducing these infections — preventing them — we can not only reduce the suffering as it relates to us all as people, but also significantly reduce the costs of health care. It all kind of leads back to behavioral change once we understand the science. That was attractive to me as well. I see the value of the infection preventionists — it's enormous."

Is there a personal story you would like to share, perhaps a person who really inspired you?

A. Well, my mother inspired me on many different levels. She was a very strong person. She suffered for close to 15 years with Parkinson's disease. She was diagnosed in her early 50s. On top of that she had several back surgeries as well as having diabetes. She was able to handle so much pain and suffering. The inspiration comes from somebody who could endure all of that. I am inspired to see how we can make the changes to be better in both long-term care as well as acute care and outpatient clinics. She died about a year ago at the age of 65. Everything leads back to that. Philosophically, this was somebody I obviously loved deeply, but I guess I am also conflicted about how much health care expense should have gone to keep her going when the quality of life had been reduced to being so low. I think these are the kind of the puzzles, the dilemmas that our country is looking at.

An off-the wall question — do you consider yourself lucky?

"My immediate response is that I don't really consider myself lucky, but I consider myself fortunate. More than that, success in life generally — who you are, your disposition — I think is the result of making good choices at pivotal moments. Maybe luck plays into that a little bit, but I think it is the choices that you make at those times."

What is your favorite sport?

"I would say sailing. It is a lifetime sport — something you can do throughout your entire life span. And it really is a team sport. There is such an element of safety involved and a level of trust you must have. You can really be in a very dangerous situation if your team isn't operating well together. I have had the pleasure, once I moved to the Chesapeake Bay region here in 1992 [to participate in sailing competitions and races]. Very cool.

What book would you recommend reading for the beach?

"My favorite book, one that I like reading again and again, is A Confederacy of Dunces. It is hilarious"

What book would you recommend for professional growth?

"About two years ago I went through a very interesting practicum. I think about it every day and really apply it. It has been the most productive professional development course that I have ever undertaken. It's called Six Advisors (www.sixadvisors.com). Basically, it helps you learn about your thinking process. It evaluates you in a way that you learn where you are balanced or unbalanced in how you make decisions and your thought processes. We are all products of our environment and experiences. It's not about changing you; it's about providing awareness on how you make decisions. What barriers might exist if you're unbalanced in a particular area? It's very interesting. The six advisors come in when you look at everything — and I think about things this way now — intrinsically and extrinsically. Because we relate to both those types of things — the internal world, the external world — as we move through our day and life. As you learn, you realize that the infinite value is in relationships. The other tiers are hugely important, but as I said before, in a way ideas and concepts are meaningless unless there is action taken."