Getting to Know AAMI’s New CEO, Part I

Posted November 7, 2016

Robert Jensen
Robert D. Jensen

In late September, the AAMI Board of Directors named Robert D. Jensen, a longtime executive in the healthcare industry and a former Marine, as the association’s third president and CEO. Jensen, who was with the MITRE Corporation for 16 years, will officially take the reins next week.

Ahead of his first day, Jensen sat down with AAMI News to share a bit about himself and his vision for the association. In this first installment, Jensen discusses his career and what led him to AAMI.

When you were a child in Nebraska, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Until I was old enough to understand that a garbage man had to do a lot more than drive a big, cool multifunctional truck, I wanted to be a neighborhood garbage man. After that—and for many years—I wanted to be a vet. I loved animals, had every possible pet you could have as a kid (except for snakes, my mom drew the line there), and thought I could help the injured and diseased ones if I were an animal doc.

Why did you decide to become a Marine?

I was working at Boys Town—of Mickey Rooney movie fame—in Douglas County, NE, as a house parent, and I went back to night school to get my teaching certificate so I could teach high school math. I walked past a Marine recruiting poster every night for six weeks. My dad and stepdad were both Marines, and I finally felt like I had to do it. The Marines were the toughest challenge I could think of, and it was service to the country.

What was the biggest lesson you learned in the military?

I think it was that there is no substitute for the three necessary components of leadership: character, courage, and competence. I still apply these in my work today.

Why did you focus on healthcare?

On my last tour in the Marines, I was in Somalia, and my best friend who worked for me was a Navy MD. I asked him once why he went into medicine. He told me there was no greater gift than being able to bring a new child into the world. (He was trained as an OB/GYN.) We also did medical and dental civil action patrols where we provided medical and dental services to the Somali locals. I thought then, as I do now, that it was a way to contribute to the greater good of all humankind.

What attracted you to the president/CEO job at AAMI?

I brought the position description home to Ellen, my partner of 10 years, and asked her to look it over when she had a moment and give me her thoughts. I had not read it yet. I changed into casual clothes, played with and fed our two dogs, and when I got back to the kitchen she held it up and said: “This is you.” She was right.

What can people expect from you in your first few months on the job?

They can expect a lot of curiosity and the attendant questions that go along with that. I really want to learn about AAMI, and I truly want to know the people. They can also expect some ideas that might be new and taking a look at some of those as a team. And most importantly, they can expect support from the top. I understand and appreciate how important serving AAMI is, and I want the organization to know they’ll get everything I have.

What does AAMI need to do to continue growing and continue to have a positive impact on healthcare technology?

I think that it’s important for AAMI to continue with some of the very successful programs that it has been executing so far—standards development, certification, training, certainly membership. Then looking to the future, it will be important to figure out its role in the changing technology landscape and in the rapidly developing area of large-scale data being made available from instrumentation. I think technology, especially with things like precision medicine, is going to become more and more prevalent, and I think that AAMI can play an even more significant role in helping with patient safety overall.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity open to AAMI as an association? The biggest challenge?

I actually think it would probably be a little presumptuous of me to answer that question without really talking to members, the Board, and staff. I think it’s important to listen to the members to see what they are asking for, what’s missing for them. Then, to talk with staff to find out the areas that we think we can contribute that we haven’t so far.

I think the challenge is figuring out how to continue to serve our members and provide them with information when the Internet and information sharing is becoming more and more ubiquitous. We need to make sure that we provide the best information at any given time and that members can rely on information from AAMI as the “gold standard.”

What has been the proudest achievement of your career so far?

Simple—having people tell me they got closer to being their best selves under my leadership and granting me the honor of leading them.

See: Getting to Know AAMI’s New CEO, Part II