College of American Pathologists
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  In Memoriam
  Yun Sik Kwak, MD, PhD


CAP Today




February 2011
Feature Story

Yun Sik Kwak, MD, PhD, of Seoul, South Korea, died suddenly of a heart attack on Nov. 24, 2010. He had been serving as deputy international commissioner for Far Eastern Civilian Laboratories for the CAP Laboratory Accreditation Program.

Dr. Kwak once inspected a laboratory in Seoul, took members of the CAP delegation to the train station, purchased their tickets, arranged dinner for them, accompanied them on a two-hour train ride, arranged taxi rides, got the group to their hotel and settled in—and then, at 10 or 11 PM, took the train back home.

“He said, ‘I must go back to Seoul. I must work tomorrow,’” recalls C. Robert Baisden, MD, an international commissioner who was part of the delegation, chuckling at the memory of his and his colleagues’ astonishment. “He was a bright, energetic, and very ­accommodating person with a vast knowledge of laboratory medicine. He was a versatile and efficient inspector and very insightful into the problems of a laboratory. He was invaluable logistically in South Korea.”

Less than a month before Dr. Kwak, 73, died on Nov. 24, he made a trip to Chicago for the Laboratory Accreditation Program state commissioners meeting. Gerald A. Hoeltge, MD, quality improvement officer at the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, says Dr. Kwak realized he hadn’t asked for an absentee ballot for the November mid-term election.

“He stayed in the U.S. for an extra three days and traveled to Cleveland on his way back to Seoul, just to vote,” says Dr. Hoeltge, LAP Checklists Committee chair, who worked down the street from Dr. Kwak for many years when Dr. Kwak practiced at the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center in Cleveland, while serving as LAP state commissioner for Ohio and teaching at Case Western Reserve and Wright State schools of medicine. “There are people who have lived in the United States all their lives who won’t even go out to vote when it rains.”

These stories of dedication are only part of what colleagues will miss about Dr. Kwak, who returned to his native Korea in 1994 and was a professor at Ajou University Medical College (1994–1999), Kyungbuk National University Medical College (1999–2010), and for just a few months at Samsung Medical Center in Seoul before his death.

Dr. Kwak was active in the Korean Laboratory Accreditation Program of the Korean Society of Laboratory Medicine. He was a leader of professional societies in medical informatics and laboratory standardization.

Richard Gomez, MD, an international inspector for the CAP Laboratory Accreditation Program who first knew Dr. Kwak when he served as state commissioner for Ohio, remembers him for his expertise in health informatics, collegiality, and warmth.

“He was well known and well respected. I never saw him without a smile on his face,” Dr. Gomez says. “When he performed laboratory inspections, he was very knowledgeable, always willing to teach and educate laboratory personnel, and willing to share his expertise.”

Dr. Hoeltge remembers Dr. Kwak’s dry sense of humor. “He had the ability to crack one joke after another and never break a smile,” he says. “If you weren’t listening carefully, you would miss half of it. People who are very bright tend to have a very good sense of humor, and certainly he typified that in a lot of ways.”

On a professional level, Dr. Kwak was best known for his knowledge of informatics and for his strong teaching abilities, Dr. Baisden says. “I will miss his exuberant personality,” he says. “He definitely took care of us and was dedicated to the CAP. He knew how to solve problems, and he had the energy, insight, and intelligence to do it.”

In that vein, Dr. Gomez recalls an inspection during which Dr. Kwak produced a spur-of-the-moment, decidedly low-tech method of testing whether a safety hood properly ventilated air to the outside.

“He took a cigarette out of his pocket, lit it, and we could see the smoke going up into the hood and out of the room,” Dr. Gomez says. “He said, ‘Look, it’s working.’”

Dr. Kwak is survived by his wife, two sons, and a daughter.