Lee Vanderlugt, DO, FAOAO, FAOA is only the fifth Executive Director in the history of the AOAO. This October he will be retiring after 11 years of exemplary service! Read more about his life and how he rose to this leadership position.
Tell us about your family, interests and activities growing up?
I was raised in the Grand Rapids area of southwest Michigan. My father worked in the telecommunications industry for 50 years. I am the oldest of six children. My two brothers (one a DO and one an MD) both practice family medicine. Two of my sisters worked as RNs early in their lifetimes.
During my early years I discovered sports was not for me. Although I did participate in some track events (distance running) it was soon evident I was not winning any medals so I soon left the team.
Throughout my early educational years I was not an exceptional student. Even in college my friends were all much smarter than me and they encouraged me to make studies a priority.
I met my future wife, Louise, in high school. We will celebrate 52 years of marriage in June.
Where did you train and what type of orthopedic surgery practice have you had?
I graduated from the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1972 with my DO degree. I served a one-year rotating internship (1972 -73) at the South Bend Osteopathic Hospital. Immediately after my internship, I completed an orthopedic surgery residency (1973 – 74) at the Normandy Osteopathic Hospital in St. Louis, MO, where William Luebbert, DO was Program Director. Throughout my clinical career I was engaged in the practice of “general orthopedic surgery.”
What are the job duties of Executive Director?
The Executive Director is the Chief Executive Officer of the American Osteopathic Academy of Orthopedics (AOAO). I report directly to the AOAO Board of Directors and I am responsible for the AOAO’s consistent achievement of its mission, vision goals and financial objectives. The AOAO is very privileged to have a fantastic relationship with our association management company, Ruggles Service Corporation, based in Richmond, VA. The team at Ruggles, led by Joye Stewart, is responsible for the day to day operations of the AOAO, guided by my input they receive on a constant basis.
A large part of my time is spent interacting with other executive directors from a variety of orthopedic specialty associations through phone calls, internet communications, and face to face discussions. In this venue, I consider myself to be the face of the AOAO in personal interactions with my peers. Throughout my tenure, I have felt an obligation to be involved with the American Osteopathic Association from a governance and leadership standpoint. In that role I continue to serve on several Bureaus, Task Forces and the Strategic Planning Committee, representing not only the AOAO, but all osteopathic specialty executives.
How did you get the job?
Early on in my career, through the mentorship of my friend and former business partner, Terry Weis, DO, I became involved in the AOAO serving on committees, as a Program Director, examiner for AOBOS and presenter at CME meetings. I was eventually elected to the AOAO Board of Directors and in May 2008 was Second Vice President. While serving on the Board, I had the honor of being mentored by then current executive director of the AOAO, Morton Morris, DO. Following his sudden and unexpected passing on May 2, 2008, I informed the Board that I was interested in assuming that position. I was immediately appointed interim Executive Director, and on January 1, 2009, the Board elected me as the full time Executive Director of the AOAO.
How has the AOAO changed over your tenure?
It is impossible to outline all of the changes to the AOAO over the past 11 years. I will mention just a few.
The AOAO is now a fully digitized association thanks to the Ruggles team. The mobile meeting guide has been a significant enhancement to our conferences. In regards to meetings, the AOAO has really seen significant changes. The exhibit halls have been transformed, and the presentations have improved in topics covered, presentation logistics and the level of expertise and knowledge of the presenters. We have added a skills lab with cadaver specimens as well as a board review course.
The AOAO Board of Directors is fully engaged in the governance of the organization, from developing and implementing a strategic plan to a complete revamp of the committee structure and functions. We have added a resident and student member to the Board. The Board operates in an open and transparent environment where all decisions made by the Board are shared with the membership.
What has been most rewarding about the position?
I see the position of Executive Director being rewarding in at least four specific areas. First, working with the Board on developing and implementing our first strategic plan, in conjunction with their dedication to innovative thinking and action. Second, working with the Ruggles team and seeing the growth and enhancements of our Annual Fall and Spring meetings. Third, the dedication of our program directors in this time of transition to a single accreditation system, making sure our DO programs thrive under the ACGME system. Fourth, observing the recognition of our members in the mainstream of orthopedics in this country and the collaboration with other orthopedic associations to advance the osteopathic orthopedic profession.
What has been most challenging?
For me, one of the most challenging aspects of my job has been convincing the American Osteopathic Association, where 75% of their membership is involved in primary care, that our specialty has a significant contribution that can be made to the current health care system. It is no secret that the relationship between the AOA and all specialty affiliates has been strained in the past, but in the past year, with Kevin Klauer, DO, as the new CEO, the attitude is changing for the better. Time will be the judge of these most recent efforts.
The AOAO has enjoyed impressive growth over your 11 years as Exec Director. How do you foresee its future?
I am cautiously optimistic concerning the future, not only of the AOAO but the entire osteopathic profession. With one in every four medical students now enrolled in an osteopathic college of medicine, the profession is on a steady upward growth cycle; but will that translate into membership in the AOA and the osteopathic specialty organizations? This is a common concern for all osteopathic associations, not just orthopedics.
The AOAO will be an active participant in a program being initiated by the colleges of osteopathic medicine called “Choose DO” that will address the concept of maintaining one’s osteopathic allegiance following medical school graduation. The aspirational goal is to have the DO students continue with osteopathic GME (at the very least to incorporate their osteopathic training in GME), osteopathic certification and then membership in their relevant osteopathic member organizations. The AOAO Board recognizes this challenge and is actively working on plans to not only encourage membership but to enhance the opportunities membership affords.
Is this “retirement” for you? What are your professional plans?
I see this retirement as a change in focus for me personally. I am not one to sit on the sidelines and not be busy. I am exploring several options but as this chapter in my career draws to a close, I hope to become active and engaged in some other endeavors.
What are your hobbies?
I really enjoy working with my hands. I have a small woodworking shop in my garage. Construction of small models of construction equipment has been a hobby for the past several years. I have also completed multiple home improvement projects and continue to work with our church on remodeling small areas in an old downtown building we recently purchased for worship and outreach.
Chickasha, OK has been your home for many years. Is your family nearby? Will you stay in the area?
At this time my wife and I have not seriously considered leaving Chickasha. Currently we have a son and his family in Grand Junction, CO, a daughter and family in Chattanooga, TN, and a son living with us. Our immediate families currently live in southern Michigan and northern Indiana. Could we end up back home in southwest Michigan at some point? Time will tell. We have really developed deep roots with great friends in this area but circumstances do change.
The AOAO owes you tremendous gratitude for many years of dedicated service. Leave us with a final thought!
It has truly been an honor and privilege to serve the AOAO and the osteopathic orthopedic community for the past 11 ½ years. There are many challenges ahead for the AOAO, without a doubt, but I also see many opportunities on the horizon. Thanks to all of you who have provided unselfish leadership for the AOAO during my tenure here. Your friendship and loyalty are truly and deeply appreciated. I pray professional and personal blessings on each and every member of the AOAO in the future.