A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

‘Chronically curious’ Ann Smith rose from
lab tech to one of top posts at UK HealthCare

By Allison Perry
Special to KyForward

Though she acknowledges that “ambitious” is a valid descriptor, UK HealthCare Chief Administrative Officer Ann Smith says there’s a different term she’d use to describe how she’s developed her career path.

“I call myself ‘chronically curious,’” Smith said. “The word ‘ambitious’ sometimes carries a negative connotation – so I prefer ‘curious.’”

Ann Smith (Photo from UKNow)

Ann Smith (Photo from UKNow)

It’s her innate curiosity – and a willingness to try just about anything new – that took Smith from working as a hematology lab tech to one of the top administrative positions for UK HealthCare.

Originally from Tennessee, Smith’s family moved to Winchester when she was a teenager, and upon graduating from George Rogers Clark High School, she went to UK and majored in medical technology.

Technically, Smith says she began her UK career 40 years ago, when she served as a babysitter for a UK personnel director. From there, she started a more official form of temporary employment, working in the hospital’s human resources department during the summer of her junior year of college.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Smith said she had worked out a plan: work in a lab at UK for three years to garner experience, then move back to her hometown of Chattanooga, Tenn.

“And then,” she says with a laugh, “I would slowly but surely move closer to the beach!”

However, she found herself staying in Lexington and taking on new challenges in the lab – even after being told by a supervisor that there would be no higher career path for her at UK. Whenever a new opportunity arose, Smith said she was always willing to jump in, whether it was trying a task she’d never done before, or simply offering a suggestion.

“I was always right there, ready to go,” she said. “I was always willing to give things a shot.”

She moved up from a lab tech to the medical plaza’s lab supervisor, then on to lab administrative manager. Meanwhile, as UK’s medical center grew, new positions popped up. After then-CEO Joe Claypool created service line areas for the medical center, Smith took on the role of Director of Diagnostic Services, which involved overseeing the lab, radiology and special diagnostics areas and technology – just before the Y2K scare of 2000.

When her boss retired in 2001, he suggested that she should apply for his job. Smith was put off by the academic requirements of the position, which would require her to go back to school to earn a graduate degree. But she was prodded into action by one simple statement.

“He said, ‘Ann, not everyone chooses to limit themselves,” she said. “And so I started back to school a month later.”

Over the next five years – and two babies – Smith earned a masters degree in public administration with a concentration of classes in health care management. She moved up on the ladder again, accepting the role of associate hospital director.

Then, as the plans for Pavilion A began in earnest, Smith says she was called into the office of Dr. Richard Lofgren, who was chief clinical officer at the time. With so much administrative focus on Pavilion A, another new position had been created, one with a senior-level focus on the day to day operations of the existing UK Chandler Hospital and Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

Smith accepted the job, becoming the interim chief administrative officer in 2008 and formalizing the position in early 2009. Since then, her concentration has been on ways to keep the daily hospital operations running efficiently while still maintaining a personal touch in regards to patient care. In 2012, UK Good Samaritan Hospital was added to her responsibilities.

Fostering an environment that builds camaraderie between staff and respect and humanity between the patients and caregivers is very high on her list of priorities. She embraces change, especially any changes that may have a positive effect on patient care.

“The challenge is to not get stuck thinking, ‘It’s always been this way,’” she says, noting that she and her staff talk with colleagues at other major medical centers all across the country to share ideas.

Much has changed around campus in Smith’s time at UK – when she began her career, the UK medical center landscape looked very different. The UK Markey Cancer Center didn’t yet exist, nor did the Kentucky Clinic. There was no critical care tower at Chandler, and the VA hospital was only a few years old.

Looking forward, Smith said she’s eager to open up new floors of Pavilion A for patient care. As for what’s next in her own career path, Smith said she always keeps her mind open.

“Whenever I’ve been ready for an opportunity, UK has always provided one,’” she said. “That said, there are opportunities everywhere. One just needs a bit of curiosity!”

Allison Perry is a senior information specialist at University of Kentucky.

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