Completing his second term as AO VET International Board (AO VETIB) chairperson, Kirker-Head recounts a period of transition


22 July 2021

Carl Kirker-Head

Carl Kirker-Head, AOVET Lisbon Retreat 2019

Involving young veterinary surgeons in AO VET’s work to fulfill the AO mission and promoting opportunity, diversity, and inclusion across the AO are among Carl Kirker-Head’s proudest achievements as his second three-year term as AO VETIB chairperson draws to a close.

Kirker-Head is professor of surgery, holds the Marilyn M Simpson professorship, and is the former director of the Orthopedic Research Laboratory at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts. Additionally, he is an adjunct associate professor at the Tufts University Department of Biomedical Engineering in Medford, Massachusetts. He encountered AO VET in the early 1990s, and in 2010 dove into AO VET leadership. Since that time, Kirker-Head has served on the AO Academic Council, the AO Academic Council Grants Committee, the AO Research Strategy Task Force, the AO VET Research and Development Commission, the AO VETIB, the AO Research Platform, the AO Research Start-Up Grants Committee, the AO Nominating Committee, and the AO Assembly of Trustees.

“What really has driven my involvement is the challenge: The AO is known globally for its preeminence in education, research, and innovation,” Kirker-Head said. “I first looked at it as an opportunity to use my skill set to help educate people seeking greater involvement in research and soon after as a means to help set direction for my own career.”

Leading the AO VETIB has been a rewarding experience—and a lot of work.

“I didn’t know what to expect going into this role. It has definitely been more work than I anticipated, but also extremely rewarding. It has made me a better educator, businessperson, clinician, and diplomat. I’ve learned how to work in a global, multicultural environment with AO surgeons and employees who have incredible wisdom and I’ve become much more aware of the many things we veterinary surgeons have in common with our physician colleagues,” he said.

A period of transformation

Over the past six years, AO VET has become “an entirely different creature,” Kirker-Head said, growing its membership, expanding its educational portfolio globally, and collaborating with nontraditional partners to leverage their strengths in countries that were not previously served by AO VET.

“For example, we’ve tested the waters in China and Russia,” he said, adding that the clinical division has also partnered with the American and European Colleges of Veterinary Surgeons to provide dedicated courses for all their members and scholarships to help young clinicians move forward in their careers.

Points of pride

Kirker-Head is notably proud of AO VET’s efforts to involve young professionals in its activities, including faculty and leadership roles. Additionally, he is proud of AO VET’s role in advancing the AO’s opportunity, leadership, and diversity efforts.

“We can no longer be perceived as a group of older gray-haired men—this does not particularly attract younger and more diversified surgeons to our community,” said Kirker-Head. He explained that AO Access, which sets the course for the AO’s future, “clearly demonstrates the AO’s commitment to mentorship, addressing existing inequalities to entry and advancement within the AO, and to identifying and overcoming barriers. We are becoming more reflective of our surgeon community. In order to remain relevant, we must resonate with our constituency.”

Kirker-Head is also proud of AO VET’s agile pivot to the digital sphere for education delivery in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“For example, we went from offering between four and six online events annually before the pandemic to 67 online events delivered in five languages to almost 13,000 participants in the past year,” he said. “This all grew out of the COVID-19 crisis and how our incredible faculty, officers, and staff were able to reinvent themselves to provide online content—with tremendous success. The new myAO platform offers additional online engagement opportunities.”

Looking ahead

Kirker-Head said his successor as AO VETIB chairperson, Jeffrey P Watkins, embraces mentorship, a key AO Access component.

“Jeff has been a great mentor for me, before and during my AO VETIB chairpersonship. He has a great deal of experience working with the AO in a variety of roles, he’s a tremendously talented surgeon, and several of the advances we have seen in equine fracture management came from Jeff’s ideas,” he said. “I’m looking forward to his term.”

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