Gary Gunderson, M.Div., D.Min., D.Div.
Having Faith in Our Future
As we face a time of transformational change in health care, our new vice president of Faith and Health Ministries is optimistic about our future.
“As a faith-based academic medical center, we are perfectly suited to face the future,” said Gary Gunderson, M.Div., D.Min., D.Div. “We’re fundamentally not afraid of change, and that’s a big advantage for us. It’s how we can become a pathfinder for innovations that matter most to our patients and community.”
Appointed on July 1, 2012, Gunderson oversees spiritual care services for patients, families and Medical Center staff. He supervises four departments—CareNet Counseling, Chaplaincy and Pastoral Education, the Center for Congregational Health, and Church and Community Relations. He also nurtures the relationship with more than 4,200 Baptist congregations throughout North Carolina and other large networks of our patients’ faith groups.
A Wake Forest University alumnus, Gunderson holds a master of divinity from Emory University in Atlanta, a doctor of ministry from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, and an honorary doctor of divinity from the Chicago Theological Seminary.
Gunderson is recognized as an expert in congregations and health. For the past seven years, he served as senior vice president of the Faith and Health Division of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in Memphis, Tenn., where he developed a new model of congregational health that became widely known as the Memphis Model.
Partnering with about 500 mostly African-American congregations, Methodist achieved measurable improvements in the health of patients in those congregations, including significantly increased longevity, lower mortality and a nearly 40 percent longer time before readmission.
Now Gunderson is bringing that model of care here.
“Our Center for Congregational Health has a vision to build partnerships with congregations to improve the health of their members and—most importantly—their neighbors,” he said. “The goal is for us to blend the intelligence of an academic medical center with the grounded intelligence of hundreds of faith partners on the ground.”
The plan is to build long-term partnerships with the congregations near our patients of any faith. As a faith-based academic medical center, we already have a head start. “We will start with the 4,300 Baptist congregations that are linked to our organization’s governance,” Gunderson said, “but we see the complexity of the religious life of our faculty, employees and community as tremendous assets.”
CareNet, which provides spiritually sensitive counseling to patients, also counsels clergy of large networks of United Methodist congregations. Our Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program, which is one of the first in the nation, has hundreds of alumni who represent every faith tradition.
Public Health Leader
In addition to his new role in Faith and Health Ministries, Gunderson holds faculty appointments at the Wake Forest School of Divinity and in Public Health Sciences. He became involved in public health by working with former President Jimmy Carter in Atlanta. For a decade, he directed the Interfaith Health Program at The Carter Center.
“I continued to partner with The Carter Center when I worked in Memphis,” he said. “We worked with physicians, employers, city government and, of course, churches to address stigmas surrounding people with mental health issues so they could get the help they needed.”
The Interfaith Health Program moved from The Carter Center to the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, where Gunderson became a research assistant professor in International Health. He also served as a visiting professor in Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Faith and Social Innovation
Gunderson has worked extensively with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In July, he visited the White House for the fifth time during the last two presidential administrations to discuss faith and social innovation. He serves as secretary for a group of 39 health systems committed to more effective engagement with the poor in their communities.
“This is hard work for everyone,” he said, “but Wake Forest Baptist Health is among a small group finding the way.”
As a leader within our organization, Gunderson is particularly interested in developing and guiding faith and social innovation. “Most people think of faith as our legacy, as part of the past,” he said. “I think faith is part of our capacity to be innovative.”