ACOG Rounds staff recently connected with Dr. Strunk on the occasion of his upcoming retirement this month, to ask him about his 16 years as a valued member of the ACOG executive team. He has served as the Deputy Executive Vice President and Vice President, Fellowship Activities since 1999, overseeing district and section activities, Junior Fellow Council Congress Advisory Council (JFCAC), health economics, practice management, membership services, and professional liability/risk management.
A big thank you to Dr. Strunk for sharing his thoughts and experience with Rounds. We hope you’ll also enjoy seeing some pictures of Dr. Strunk’s career, both as an ob-gyn and as a key staff member at ACOG.
ACOG Rounds: What achievement or achievements are you most proud of?
Dr. Strunk: As an executive in a membership organization, my focus has been on the member benefit – what we [ACOG] give our Fellows and Junior Fellows that is of immediate and practical use. In that regard, I believe that the Essential Guide series of publications provides particularly important and useful information to the membership. This includes Professional Liability and Risk Management: An Essential Guide, as well as The Business of Medicine: An Essential Guide, The Essential Guide to Coding in Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Frequently Asked Questions in Obstetric and Gynecologic Coding. I am also very pleased with our monograph titled Neonatal Brachial Plexus Palsy, which was the product of a task force of the same name. I was intimately involved in the writing and editing of that work.
For Junior Fellows, I had the privilege of supporting and guiding many projects, but the most visible of these include Healing Our Own: Adverse Events in Obstetrics & Gynecology (video), Professionalism in the Use of Social Media (video featuring former JFCAC Chair, Meadow Good, and filmed by her brother), as well as an earlier CD-ROM titled From Exam Room to Courtroom: Navigating Litigation and Coping With Stress.
ACOG Rounds: What was your greatest challenge as Deputy Executive Vice President and Vice President of Fellowship Activities? What did you learn from this challenge?
Dr. Strunk: One of the biggest challenges for any manager is to identify, grow and mentor staff, which encompassed a wide range of topics, tasks and activities for my division, including District and Section Activities, Junior Fellows, Health Economics, Practice Management, Membership Services, and Professional Liability/Risk Management.
During my tenure, I was proud to have led and been part of mentoring of staff both in the Fellowship Division and throughout the College. The result is what I feel is a better and stronger, more committed staff than at any earlier time at ACOG. It is particularly heartening today for me to see the development of a cadre of real leaders at the director and manager levels.
Other challenges included working to build more of a team culture where ideas and leadership come from all levels in the organization, with our current CEO and EVP, Dr. Hal Lawrence and others. It’s exciting to see what can happen when this type of approach is fostered in an organization such as ACOG. Personally, I’ve also worked to be less impatient and to embrace and further value the importance of the process in an organization. Getting important buy-in from executives and staff is a critical goal in succeeding personally and for the organization.
ACOG Rounds: How did you initially become involved in ob-gyn?
Dr. Strunk: My path to becoming an ob-gyn wasn’t the traditional route. After attending medical school for three years, I enlisted in the Navy and served as a destroyer officer during the Vietnam War. I then attended law school and practiced trial law in New Jersey for 6 years, representing many physicians, obstetrician-gynecologists among them. I came to know several of these physicians very well, and around the time of my wife’s first pregnancy, I decided to return to medical school. I was very much influenced by her pregnancy, labor and delivery to choose a career in obstetrics and gynecology – a specialty which offers an unusual spectrum of diagnostic, consultative and surgical work.
ACOG Rounds: What inspires you most about ob-gyn?
Dr. Strunk: Being involved in the process of human birth brings with it a sense of the miraculous. To contemplate the evolution of the embryo and fetus from an egg and a sperm into a newborn baby is to make an agnostic - or even an atheist - reflect on the possible existence of God. Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome Project, said at the announcement of the first text of the genome, “It’s a happy day for the world. It is humbling for me, and awe-inspiring, to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God.”
ACOG Rounds: Do you have a personal philosophy? What is it and how did you apply it to your position as Deputy Executive Vice President and Vice President of Fellowship Activities?
Dr. Strunk: My personal philosophy in my managerial role as a member of the executive staff has two main elements. The first is open and direct communication. In leadership, it’s essential to communicate both positive and negative messages openly, directly, and clearly to help staff at all levels in the organization understand overall objectives and directives. In this regard, words – indeed, precise language - are critical.
The second personal work philosophy is that results should be tangible and concrete, rather than vague or abstract. That’s why I continue to focus on product – product, which is directly useful to members. Words are totally insufficient; it is product or deeds which have value.
ACOG Rounds: What is something you wish more people knew or understood about ob-gyn or ACOG?
Dr. Strunk: I would like women to believe - and have an objective basis for believing - that obstetricians are not merely dedicated to safe motherhood, but that we have actually made motherhood much safer over the last 70 years. As part of the ob-gyn specialty, I believe that team-based obstetric care, led by an obstetrician, will provide the best and safest care to women and their babies in the future. Obstetricians will do well to work with other non-physician providers who can professionally and safely provide care to women.