Catherine Codispoti’s career track began in her childhood, as she accompanied her family to various children’s hospitals—but not for the typical check-up.
“My younger sisters Alexandra and Diana are identical twins and have achondroplastic dwarfism [a growth disorder that prevents cartilage from changing into bone]. Medical teams followed them rigorously—first to determine what type of dwarfism they had, and then to monitor their growth rates, mental and emotional development, and other markers,” Codispoti says.
She intently remembers the contrast of these hospitals compared to adult facilities. “They were very warm and inviting places, and I was never scared or worried. Everyone came down to my level and spoke to me directly. That personal touch was a big influence on me, and seeded my passion for being in healthcare,” she says, noting that from age six until her sophomore year in college, her goal was to become a pediatric surgeon.
Codispoti joined the pre-med program at Wofford College and landed an internship with a chemical firm. The experience included taking a behavioral brain dominance test, but the results surprised her. “They indicated my personality really wasn’t suitable for a pediatric surgeon,” she says. Instead, they suggested she had potential for success in higher-level senior leadership roles.
In her junior year, Codispoti had an epiphany. During a course on the evolution of healthcare policy, she realized that the administrative side—ensuring access, influencing policy, providing resources—was where her heart truly lived.
After graduation, Codispoti earned her master’s degree in health administration and policy from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, where she was mentored by Dr. Edward N. Brandt Jr., Ronald Reagan’s acting surgeon general and United States assistant secretary for health. “He began his career as a surgeon and moved to the administrative aside,” she recalls, “so I felt an instant connection to him.”
Out of university, Codispoti’s first job in hospital administration was at Texas Children’s Hospital. And while a typical executive career path resembles a straight line, Codispoti’s twelve-year tenure at Texas Children’s followed the curve of her desire for challenge and life-of-learning philosophy.
Originally an administrative fellow at the hospital, Codispoti soon took over managing and directing nursing business operations in the emergency department, followed by spots in clinical planning and financial management, corporate financial planning, operations and finance, and culminating as vice president of human resources in 2016.
“All of those promotions were rooted in my personality and my interest in constantly learning,” she recalls, “but a lot has to do with the organization itself. They saw my leadership skills as transferable, and placed me in positions where I could excel, even when facing a steep learning curve.”
“Moving into corporate finance and operations were turning points for me,” she adds. “It was my first exposure outside of the pediatric hospital—health plans, private practices, women’s services, faculty administration, outpatient services. It was just an awesome opportunity for me to gain more exposure.”
After three years as HR vice president at Texas Children’s, Codispoti was hired by Children’s National Hospital as vice president and associate chief people officer in 2019 and became chief people officer in 2021. She currently runs a team of about seventy, whose duties go far beyond talent acquisition.
“We’re also concerned with learning and development, succession planning, occupational health, regulations and compliance, collective bargaining, HRIS, compensation, benefits, wellness, employee call center, and we even have ‘mini-CHROs’ that support specific business partners within the hospital,” she explains.
Whatever the position, Children’s National Hospital has increasingly tended toward data-driven hiring practices, which has helped Codispoti maintain a culture of learning and growth. “A behavioral assessment is part of the interview process. Applicants are scored on particular competencies and behaviors. Those data influence our hiring decisions, and we are actively working to apply them throughout the employee lifecycle. Over the past few years purely based on selecting our talent with this data-driven approach, our retention has increased by 1 percent and employee engagement is up 2 percent,” Codispoti says.
“Our executives have regular virtual meetings with our employees, keeping everyone up-to-date on what is happening and why it’s happening.”
Of course, as chief people officer, Codispoti’s main job is to keep Children’s National employees at the center of her plans—a goal that became more imperative and more difficult at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily the hospital took some creative steps to keep the people side of the business at the forefront.
“Our executives have regular virtual meetings with our employees, keeping everyone up-to-date on what is happening and why it’s happening,” Codispoti explains. Children’s National also offered expanded remote services, monitored its PPE levels, and even reallocated employees within the organization. “It’s helped us maintain a steady level of employment,” she says.
Beyond employment, the hospital made sure that its fairly young workforce had resources it needed to maintain work/life balance. With daycare centers shuttered, the hospital took a novel step to help with childcare during work hours.
“Our talent acquisition team shifted gears, and began recruiting in-home childcare workers for our employees,” Codispoti says. “People in the community were welcome to apply, and we worked with the IT and legal departments to build a database. The hospital paid for their background checks and was able to link caregivers to families that needed them. It has really worked out well.”
“Catherine’s decisions and actions are grounded in unwavering principles. She can be counted on to do the right things for the right reasons. People follow her lead because they know she has their best interests—and those of the organization—at heart,” says Mitch Bergen, client strategist at Talent Plus Inc. and close partner of Codispoti’s team. “By way of her high ambiguity tolerance, Catherine is unphased by the challenge of unchartered territory. Her talents position her to lead through complexity and significant challenge. Confident and resourceful, she jumps in with both feet and figures it out.”
As a mother of three children (a six-, a four-, and a one-year-old) this mission to balance work and life is close to Codispoti’s heart. She believes that working mothers can have it all: a rewarding job, a loving marriage, and a family. But, she says, no one should have to fly solo. “My family is very fortunate to afford a nanny,” she says, “but we also have a village-worth of relatives and friends that are available to help us when we need it.”
Putting together this community-based childcare program was just one big way to create that village for others. More so, it’s a way for other women to have the bandwidth to see the potential in their path. That mission is also the backbone of Chief, a private network made up of over four thousand of the most influential senior leaders in the United States. Codispoti is a founding member of the DC chapter. Chief is designed specifically for women at the VP through CEO level and works to permanently break the glass ceiling present among executive leadership in America.
Speaking of CEOs, that title is on Codispoti’s list of goals as well. “I’ve had many different experiences throughout my career,” she says. “That position would enable me to draw upon all of them to help set a vision and strategy, and then to see their impact on the employees, patients, and families.”
But Codispoti’s vision as a CEO would extend beyond the physical building. She finds personal and professional inspiration from empathetic trailblazers like Sheryl Sandberg, Brené Brown, and Glennon Doyle. And by partnering with local resources and using her own experiences to shape her approach, Codispoti would lead using a personal touch, a tool that can inspire and empower anyone. She would know.
Balance and Being Present
One of Catherine Codispoti’s greatest sources of fulfillment is her ability to balance work, life, and marriage, and she’s an advocate for other women to do the same. Of course, she notes, no working mother can be 100 percent perfect in all three categories all the time. But she’s found that one thing that helps is making a clear divide between work time and family time.
“Be sure to set aside family time as much as you can,” she advises. “Our daily rule is no phones, no emails, no texts between 5:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. when we are with the kids. You really need to set up boundaries like that—and stick to them.”
Learning is Life’s Journey
Catherine Codispoti’s passion for learning coincides perfectly with Children’s National Hospital’s culture of improvement. She reads various trade publications, uses professional social media, and participates in local organizations. “Dr. Kurt Newman, our president and CEO has always advocated membership in business groups,” she says. “It’s a great way to learn about economics, finance, politics, and other topics, and to talk with executives about the various challenges they face—and how they solve them.”
Talent Plus is proud to support Catherine Codispoti and Children’s National Hospital as they take an innovative and people-first approach to employee and patient health.
We support Children’s National’s mission to excel in care, advocacy, research, and education—they accomplish this through providing quality healthcare experiences, improving health outcomes, and leading the creation of innovative solutions. We commend Catherine as a positive force for change in the healthcare industry.