"My mother was a cancer patient during my high school and college years," said Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Inger Rosner, director of urologic oncology and associate director of the Center of Prostate Disease Research at Walter Reed Bethesda.
"It was a very challenging time for my family," Rosner continued. "Her surgeons and oncologist had such an enormous impact on me - they were caring, thoughtful and so dedicated. It inspired me to try to give that level of care to others."
It's that passion of science and the desire to help people that motivated Rosner and her colleagues, Navy Capt. (Dr.) Lisa Mulligan, Navy Capt. (Dr.) Christine Sears, Cmdr. (Dr.) Katherine I. Schexneider, Cmdr. (Dr.) Colleen Dorrance, Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Tamara Kindelan, Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Kerry Latham and Dr. Susan Dunlow, to pursue careers in medicine. They are among the many physicians at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) contributing to the healing of the nation's heroes and their families.
September is Women in Medicine Month, launched by the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1990 to recognize the contributions of female physicians to health care and their communities, and encourage more women to consider careers as physicians. At Walter Reed Bethesda we also would like to take this opportunity to recognize the contributions and dedication of our women in medicine.
"A career in medicine can be very challenging and demanding, but rewarding," added Rosner, who earned her medical degree from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science (USU) at Naval Support Activity Bethesda. Mulligan, deputy commander for surgery at Walter Reed Bethesda, said although women now make up approximately 50 percent of students at medical schools, "the military side has been behind numerically." Mulligan is one of a few women neurosurgeons in the military and is the neurosurgery specialty leader to the Navy Surgeon General. A Harvard grad, Mulligan earned her medical degree from USU, did her internship at the former National Naval Medical Center (now WRNMMC) in general surgery, completed her neurosurgery residency training through the National Capital Consortium Residency program, and was an epilepsy surgery fellow at Yale University.
According to numbers from the AMA and Association of Women Surgeons, in the U.S., female physicians outnumber male physicians in pediatrics, and female residents outnumber male residents in family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pathology and psychiatry, but some medical specialties, such as surgery, remain primarily male-dominated.
Kindelan, who is a minimally invasive and bariatric surgeon at Walter Reed Bethesda, explained her parents were influential to her in pursuing a medical career.
"My parents were the first ones to tell me I could be a doctor, and I guess it just stuck in my head. When it was time to choose what to do with my life, I chose medicine. The more and more I learned afterwards made me sure I made the right choice," Kindelan said.
Latham, a plastic surgeon, said she also became interested in medicine as a little girl. "I knew I wanted to help people, and I like problem solving. [Medicine] seemed like a good fit."
The plastic surgeon explained how a humanitarian mission to the Philippines as a medical student at USU also influenced her career choice.
"I met a teenage boy with an unrepaired cleft lip. He told me, through a translator, that he wanted to have surgery to fix his lip. He said he was in love with a girl in town but she would not marry him because he had an unrepaired cleft lip. He also said when he was a little boy, another mission had come, but he was sick, so they could not do his surgery. He said he had been waiting many years for surgeons to come back to help him. I helped the surgeon do his cleft lip repair. I had never seen a cleft lip surgery. It was amazing. The surgery took two hours and the teenage boy did very well. I went to see him the next morning and he was lying on a stretcher and a very pretty teenage girl was sitting with him. They were so happy together and she was looking at him so affectionately. He was smiling broadly and I knew that she was the girl he loved. I was elated," said Latham.
"In that moment, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life," Latham said. "I could not believe that in a couple of hours a plastic surgeon can improve people's lives so dramatically. What an incredible profession!"
Sears explained, "a love of science and a desire to see science applied to help people and society," sparked her desire to become a physician. The staff urologist at Walter Reed Bethesda also serves as the executive assistant to WRNMMC Commander, Rear Adm. (Dr.) Alton L. Stocks.
"I love the systems approach to medicine," Sears explained. "Since I was an engineering major in undergraduate school, the urinary system makes sense to me. Urology has a wonderful combination of medical and surgical disciplines - everything from seeing patients in the office to minor procedures to complex surgeries in the abdomen, pelvis and retroperitoneum. I also truly enjoy my colleagues; we are a fun, albeit sometimes strange, bunch."
Dorrance, staff hematologist/oncologist and assistant chief of hematology/oncology at WRNMMC, said her father's death caused her to pursue a medical career. "My father passed from cancer," said the Pennsylvania native. "I saw a place where I could make a difference in patient management, helping families and training future physicians and learning to do it better."
The hematologist/oncologist added being a physician is "truly one of the most gratifying ways to earn a living and give back to society. I get so much more back from my patients and their families in ways that I never expected, and these gifts keep me focused on what is really important in life," Dorrance said.
Chief of the department of quality management and medical director of blood services at WRNMMC, Schexneider said working as a lab tech in veterinary medicine was instrumental in her becoming a physician. "I loved the science of what we were doing, but actually felt like I connected more with the pet owners than with the pets themselves. One veterinarian I worked with really kindled my interest. A pathologist I met while I was still in veterinary medicine, Dr. Resa Chase, encouraged me to apply to medical school."
Dunlow, who retired from the Army in 2008 after serving 26 years, is chief of OB/GYN ambulatory services at WRNMMC. She said she's always been fascinated by science, and wanted to be a doctor since she was 6. She earned her medical degree from USU, and like her colleagues, encourages other women to consider careers in medicine.
"It has been a lot of hard work, but worth all of the effort I put into it," Dunlow explained. "Juggling a career in medicine and raising a family has been difficult at times, but I don't feel I missed out on anything. I think my children would say the same. I spent time in my children's classrooms, coached their soccer teams and always found time to do the things that were important to me."
"The best advice I have for anyone, male or female, interested in medicine, is to keep in mind that life is a constant journey, a marathon, not a sprint," added Sears, who earned her engineering undergraduate degree at Johns Hopkins University and her medical degree from Northwestern University Medical School.
"There will always be another mountain to climb and don't fool yourself that the mountain in front of you is the last one," Sears continued. "Enjoy the climb. Take a moment to look at the view, and then expect another mountain in front of you," added the Navy captain, born at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va.
Kindelan, born in Seattle, Wash., also earned her medical degree from USU, agreed, stating, "There is no other job that can compare with what we are able to do as physicians; every day you learn something new, get to teach and have the privilege of helping people during some of the most important times of their lives. It's not easy, you have to be sure you want it and be willing to spend years in training, but it is worth it.
"There are so many great role models at this hospital," Kindelan added. She encourages people to "take advantage of the years of military and medical expertise that walk our halls."
A native of Potomac, Md., Latham, who completed her undergraduate and medical degrees at Princeton University, has the same advice for women who are considering careers in medicine. She tells them, "Go for it, ladies! I think the proverb that a good surgeon has 'the eye of an eagle, the heart of a lion, and the hand of a lady,' might be right."
Schexneider, who hails from the San Francisco Bay area, and also earned her medical degree from USU, has the same advice for women interested in medical or military careers, "Go for it."
"When I started wearing the uniform as an ROTC midshipman in 1979, women were still new to the military in appreciable numbers," said Schexneider, whose father and grandfather served in the Navy. "It felt to me like we were still in the 'experiment' stage, and it was easy for folks to identify us as 'women midshipmen,' and to view us and our contributions differently. I feel that this has completely changed, and that gender plays no role whatsoever in how people are valued. Our gender may inform how we approach people and situations - maybe my style is somewhat different from that of some of my male colleagues - but does not limit us in any way that I can see."
Schexneider added a number of women led the change in how women physicians and those in the military are perceived. "The actions, courage and endurance of hundreds of women who wore the uniform proudly through those early years reshaped the attitudes of men and women they served with. We should be grateful for those pioneers."
Did you Know:
In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S., from Geneva Medical College in New York. In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first African American woman to receive a medical degree.
The first woman commissioned as assistant surgeon general in the U.S. Army (1864), Dr. Mary Walker, earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for service during the Civil War in 1865.
In 1943, Dr. Margaret Craighill became the first woman physician to join the U.S. military as part of the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
In 1997, Rear Adm. Bonnie B. Potter became the first female physician in the U.S. Navy to be selected for flag rank, and the first female commander of the former National Naval Medical Center (NNMC), now Walter Reed Bethesda.
In 2007, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Carla Hawley-Bowland, the first female Medical Corps general in the history of the U.S. Army, became the first woman to command the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, also now, Walter Reed Bethesda.
For more information about Women in Medicine, visit www.ama-assn.org/go/wpc.