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Developing female physicians as clinicians and leaders

Navy Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, DHA director, interacts with attendees of the Female Physician Leadership Course during a presentation April 1, 2019. (MHS photo) Navy Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, DHA director, interacts with attendees of the Female Physician Leadership Course during a presentation April 1, 2019. (MHS photo)

More than 100 competitively selected physicians gathered in Falls Church, Virginia, the first week of April to attend the Military Health System Female Physician Leadership Course, sponsored by the Department of Defense Council for Female Physician Recruitment and Retention. Navy Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, director of the Defense Health Agency, joined the attendees on the course’s opening day.

“As a leader, you have to be willing to make change happen,” Bono told the group. “Leadership should make you uncomfortable; it’s not for the weak of heart because it takes courage and skill.” She said that these qualities are shown in a leader’s style on a daily basis.

“Be personable, but don’t take things personally. Have the self-confidence to know who you are and to take equally the positive and negative comments,” advised Bono, relaying one of the many candid and encouraging examples she provided. She added, “You should be approachable. Having a friendly, professional rapport with colleagues is important.”

The three-day course is designed to give female physicians an opportunity to hear from senior service leaders and to hone interviewing, networking and communication skills. Bono also urged the attendees to be authentic, a theme echoed by other course presenters. “Don’t try to be someone you are not,” she said. “Work with the strengths you have.”

But authenticity to Bono includes being well-rounded. “I love my job because it’s what our patients deserve, but I don’t define myself by what I do professionally,” she confided.

Bono urged the attendees to give the same high level of effort no matter how large or small the task. She used the example of the transition to MHS as an opportunity to truly lead in optimizing the change and helping others adapt more easily.

The course concluded with a panel of military leaders who shared their experience earned along various career paths.

Army Brig. Gen. Telita Crosland, deputy chief of staff for Operations, U.S. Army Medical Command, shared how trying to “have it all” made her feel like a failure at everything – as a wife, a mother, and in her career. “Define success in life in your own terms,” said Crosland, who has been selected for promotion to major general. “Don’t beat yourself up for what you perceive as a failure, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Air Force Brig. Gen. Susan Pietrykowski reflected on lessons she learned both from former supervisors and from colleagues. She asked attendees to focus not so much on gender differences. “The diversity we bring to the table is our thoughts and experiences, she said. Asking the group to model the behavior they want to see in their team, she said, “Set the tone for work-life balance, leverage communication tools that work best for your team, and never undervalue face-to-face interactions.”

Told by a seventh-grade guidance counselor that she probably wouldn’t ever become a biomedical engineer and that she should choose journalism instead, Rear Adm. Erica G. Schwartz, now the U.S. deputy surgeon general, not only earned her degree in biomedical engineering, but went on to earn a masters in public health, a doctor of medicine and a and law degree. After serving in the Navy, she transferred to the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the Coast Guard. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can’t do,” she advised. “If you continue to try, you will succeed.”

Challenging the group to think about their roles within the Military Health System and to see its transition as an opportunity, Bono said, “Leadership can be challenging and exhilarating. Your leadership and knowledge of the Military Health System will be very important during this transition period. Honor each other and honor what each of you brings to the table to help everyone advance.

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

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