An Industry Icon: Norma White's 60-Year Career in Healthcare & Surgery Centers

Norma White, RN, has had a long and prolific career in healthcare. She graduated in 1950 and did not officially retire until she reached her 80s. From hospital leadership to mentorship and ambulatory surgery center development, Ms. White has not only navigated the healthcare industry with success, but also left behind a remarkable list of accomplishments that make her name a familiar one in the surgery center industry.

After graduating, Ms. White became the director of surgical services at her alma mater hospital, which had a school of nursing. In addition to her duties as director of surgical services, she taught the student nurses throughout the course of their training.

Ms. White took a leading role in developing the first post-anesthesia care unit in the city of Austin. In 1950, the United States just past World War II, healthcare was not very specialized, but as Ms. White began working as a nurse this started to change.

As specialties emerged as a growing force, Ms. White traveled to large teaching hospitals to observe various open heart programs. Then, at her own hospital, she opened the first open heart program in the city of Austin. This hospital performed the first open heart surgery in Austin. .

After over two decades of working in hospitals, Ms. White decided to go back to school and shift her focus on another field. But, in 1971 she received a phone call from investors, including physicians, working on a novel project in Texas. They were involved in the startup of a new facility, Bailey Square Surgery Center. At the time, surgery centers were a completely new idea. The surgery center opened about a year after Ms. White agreed to help. Bailey Square was the first surgery center to open in the state, the third and largest to open in the country.

Ms. White stayed with the center as the administrator for 18 years and took the lead in introducing the idea of an outpatient surgery center to payers. "In the first year, I spent a lot of time speaking with insurance companies and Medicare," says Ms. White. "I was sent to Washington, D.C. to help structure the first reimbursement rate with Medicare." Ms. White was an early figure in an issue that still tops the list of surgery center priorities.  

Even in the early days of ASCs, observers were able to see what distinguished surgery centers from hospitals. "An efficiency team observed us for a month and saw that we were more efficient and cost-conscious than hospitals," says Ms. White.

The advantages and apparent success of existing surgery centers quickly drew attention and other cities began to develop their own ASCs. Ms. White surveyed surgery centers nationally for AAAHC.

After leaving Bailey Square Surgery Center, a brand new hospital, that had an adjoining ambulatory unit, was being built in North Austin. The project leaders offered Ms. White a position and she accepted.

Ms. White retired at 71, but her retirement hardly qualified as quiet. "I did a little work here and there," she says. During her time after leaving Bailey Square and North Austin Medical Center, Ms. White worked for BlueCross BlueShield and continued to serve as a consultant for number of new surgery center projects.

While Ms. White was travelling, her work in Texas remained well-known. Barbara Bergin, MD, and her partners at Texas Orthopedics & Sports Medicine were considering opening their own surgery center. "Norma White" was the name that immediately came to mind when they were wondering where to start.

Eventually, Ms. White heard that the physicians of Texas Orthopedics were searching for her. She immediately accepted the position and helped to build their ASC from scratch. Ms. White served as the center's director for a number of years. When the current OR director of the Texas Orthopedics Surgery Center Robert Knox, RN, first came to the facility he sought out Ms. White. She interviewed and hired him as staff nurse.

In 2003. Ms. White was honored by the Federated Ambulatory Surgery Association, in Boston, Mass., and made a founding mother. She was the association's first female board member.

Ms. White officially entered retirement at the age of 80. "I was blessed to have a very enjoyable, successful, and rewarding career because I was motivated by an outstanding and supportive group of physicians who taught me so much. I was also surrounded by a very dedicated and talented nursing staff."

Dr. Bergin refers to Ms. White as "the epitome of ASC administrative leadership," as exemplified by her career.

More Articles on ASC Issues:
Developing a Positive Community Presence for Surgery Centers: Q&A With Administrator Melissa Dansby
Most Important Issues Affecting Surgery Centers: 9 Administrators Discuss
5 Best Practices for Managing Leadership Transitions in ASCs

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