Staff Retreat Unites and Aligns AO NA Family

In-person again after seventeen months, our team stepped beyond their screens to work and grow together

17 August 2021

Last week, the AO North America team gathered for a staff retreat at our office in Wayne, PA. This was our first in-person gathering since COVID-19 sent us home in March 2020. 

Over the past year, our team has worked tirelessly to provide faculty and learners with a seamless transition from in-person to digital learning. We have delivered the same high-quality education, implemented a total brand redesign, transformed ourselves digitally, and adapted to a whole new work style—all in a matter of months. 

Yet, despite the benefits of remote work, Zoom™ calls, and Microsoft Teams chats, these things fail to replicate the experience of building relationships face-to-face. When it seemed safe to do so, our leadership decided to bring us together for a few days to strengthen our teamwork, comradery, and prepare us for the challenges of courses returning in the fall. 

AO North America staff from all over the country gathered for three days in our office. Due to continuing COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the Delta variant, only vaccinated employees were in attendance, and those present wore masks at all times. 

Old friends were reunited, new friendships were formed, and the AO North America family grew stronger during these three days. Several of our newer team members hired during the pandemic had the opportunity to finally meet and interact with their coworkers. 

The AO NA Staff Retreat allowed us to get to know our colleagues more personally. It was especially exciting to meet those colleagues whom I had worked with for over a year and never met.  – Josh Block, Professional Services Manager 

After a long time without seeing anyone in person, I was thrilled to see employees again.  I was also excited to meet new employees who were hired virtually during the Pandemic. My favorite part of our retreat was the axe-throwing competition where we could enjoy each other as people. – Andrea Mower, Chief of Human Resources and Admin

When asked what they enjoyed most about the retreat, our staff responded unanimously: “being together again” and “meeting the pandemic hires.” These sentiments speak volumes on the joy of relationship building and the necessity of periodic face-to-face interaction that COVID had deprived us of. 

Throughout the retreat, our staff participated in numerous learning sessions, team-building exercises, and social activities designed to recharge and unify us. Here are a few of the highlights. 


We were lucky to have Samir Mehta, MD from the University of Pennsylvania Health System as a guest speaker. He spoke about the importance of AO principles and the impact AO North America has had on his career. 

“The AO Foundation has revolutionized fracture care throughout the world.” – Samir Mehta, MD 

Dr. Mehta presented various cases where he used AO techniques to transform patients’ lives, from correcting other surgeons’ errors to successfully managing challenging injuries. Seeing the fruits of our labor—how our efforts improve patient care—encouraged us as a staff. Dr. Mehta emphasized that, with AO advancements, survivorship is no longer the goal, quality is.

For Dr. Mehta, AO North America didn’t just teach him valuable surgical principles. It provided him with a second family. He showed us pictures of his kids at AO events, discussed close friendships created through the AO, and recalled fond memories from his involvements with AO NA.

“My top highlight would be when Dr. Mehta spoke to us on Tuesday morning about his experience and role in AO North America. It was nice to learn how to AO has affected his career and molded him into the surgeon he is today.” – Allison Babb, Research Coordinator

Following Dr. Mehta’s speech, our Executive Director Steve Schwartz presented on the history of the AO Foundation. He emphasized the importance of remembering “from whence we came,” as this allows us to carry on the traditions and legacy of our predecessors while pursuing progress and change.

Steve began by discussing pioneering experiments on internal fixation that laid the groundwork for the AO principles, then described the journey begun by AO’s founders, Maurice Edmond Müller, Robert Schneider, Hans Willenegger, and Martin Allgöwer that turned these scientific standards into a global educational force comprised of AO, the AO Foundation, and consequently, AO North America.

“I also really valued the lecture that Steve gave on AO and AO NA's robust history. The knowledge he shared helped me appreciate our organization in a new way.” – Josh Block, Professional Services Manager

On the last day of the retreat, we recognized four of our employees’ AO NA anniversaries – Julie Foley (ten years), Brenda Lowry (ten years), Angel Paredes (five years), and Dorene Winters (five years). Congratulations to all four of these hard-working individuals for such an awesome milestone in their careers! Steve commended them for their invaluable service and each shared humorous and heartwarming memories from past years of work. Our organization would truly be lost without them. 

The AO North America staff retreat allowed us to connect, grow, learn, develop teamwork, strategize, realign, and build relationships. Those three days in the office together emphasized the familial bonds of AO North America and reminded us of the cultural strength that allowed us to prevail and adapt during the height of the pandemic. 

Our realigned and reenergized staff are now preparing to take on the challenges of running in-person courses safely amid the Delta variant spike. We have prevailed before—and with our AO family, we shall prevail again.

“I particularly enjoyed getting to know my coworkers face-to-face. I talked to some people I never had personal conversations with before and connected with new people. It really did feel like family, and I think that speaks highly of AO North America’s culture.” – Josh Okumura, Digital Marketing Associate.

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