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President’s Physician Offers Advice To Health-Care Graduates


By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communications

The physician to Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, Navy Rear Adm. (Dr.) Ronny L. Jackson, offered the approximate 300 graduates of health-related training programs in the National Capital Consortium, four “tidbits” of advice during commencement June 23 at the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Md.

“Find mentors and leaders who truly want to see you succeed, and who are in positions to further your careers. It may be somebody who you least expect, so be nice to everybody,” was the first bit of advice Jackson offered the interns, residents and fellows graduating from NCC curriculums at the Uniformed Services University, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, and Malcolm Grove Medical Center.
“Determine for yourself the right place and the right time [to pursue an opportunity],” was the admiral’s second bit of advice to graduates. “Don’t let someone else decide if any opportunity…is the right place and the right time for you.” He encouraged the graduates to not “automatically buy-in” to those who may advise them that they “need more time under their belts or leadership experience” before they pursue certain jobs, and he used himself as an example.
Jackson explained once he became aware of his nomination for chief of the White House Medical Unit and physician to the president, several people in his chain of command suggested it may not be the right place and time for him. “While I agree…experience is always a great thing and nice to have, had I waited, I’m confident that this opportunity would have forever been gone.”
The third bit of advice Jackson had for the graduates is to “aggressively take advantage of opportunities,” and lastly, he encouraged them to “keep an open mind and roll with the serendipity.”
Jackson said the military has offered him opportunities he could not have imaged early in his career when his intentions were to fulfill his initial service obligation and get out. “You all have opportunities that you have literally not begun to imagine,” he told the graduates.
The admiral added by the time he had fulfill his initial service obligation, his views on leaving the military had changed to what it is now, that being: “I would get out if I could do the exact same job in the civilian world as I do in the Navy. Every job I’ve had in the Navy has been exciting, unique, and absolutely something that cannot be [easily transferred to] the civilian world.
“Where else can you go to work each day [on] a submarine…jump out of airplanes…fast rope out of helicopters…dive in sunken German battleships…swim with seals and sea lions…travel all over the planet aboard Air Force One…spend the night in Buckingham Palace…ride camels through the vintage sea of Petra…witness history firsthand from within three presidential administrations…and practice medicine abroad in [war-torn] countries, and sometimes, get into combat zones to make a real difference when your country needs you most?
“Don’t waste or take for granted the unique opportunities military medicine provides you,” Jackson told the graduates. “You will leave the military someday, and you will have the rest of your life to practice ‘ordinary’ medicine. I encourage you to try your best to practice ‘extraordinary’ medicine now until that time comes,” he concluded.
Army Col. Michael S. Heimall, WRNMMC director, said because of the training that NCC graduates receive, “They are so much better prepared to meet the challenges of military medicine, which is a testament to the [consortium’s] faculty and program directors.”
A graduating transitional intern, Army Capt. (Dr.) Opeyemi I. Oluyemi, is heading for a general medical officer tour at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. He earned his medical degree from the Western University of Health Sciences in California through the Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program. He said he is now looking forward to a pathology rotation.
“It’s great and always exciting to make that next step,” Oluyemi said about graduating. “It also means more responsibility. I’m looking forward to joining the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii,” he added.
Army Maj. (Dr.) Christina S. O’Hara, a graduate of U.S. Military Academy at West Point and East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine, completed her residency in the NCC’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program. She described graduating from her residency as a “stupendous moment. I’m very, very excited to be done and on to now helping people.” She will be practicing occupational medicine at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Charles G. Stahlmann graduated from the fellowship program in pulmonary and critical care medicine at WRNMMC. “It feels a little surreal after 10 years of post-graduate training,” said the physician, headed to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. “I’m looking forward to being an attending physician and making some of my own decisions with recommendations from my patients.”
Army Maj. (Dr.) Gabriel Pavey’s wife, Army Maj. (Dr.) Ashleigh Pavey, graduated from a fellowship in neonatal – perinatal medicine. She will be an attending neonatologist at Madigan Army Medical Center near Tacoma, Washington. He is going to a fellowship at the University of Washington in musculoskeletal oncology after completing his residency in the NCC.
Pavey saluted his wife for her diligence and determination in completing her fellowship, as well as being a mother, wife and Soldier. “There were a lot of long days and long nights. Being in training together is tough. It’s challenging to have two physicians in training who are parents.” The couple has a 3-year-old daughter, Alexandra, and an 18-month-old son, Benjamin. “She has also been a wonderful stepmom to my 12-year-old son Christian,” Pavey added.
“What’s impressive about this is [my wife] takes care of people in their most challenging time – new parents with sick babies,” he continued. “She extremely cut out for it and does wonderfully. I’ve seen her interact with families and she does a wonderful job at it. It’s pretty incredible to be with her today and I’m extremely proud of her.”
Also during the ceremony, 15 awards were presented to graduates, faculty and staff members for excellence in research, teaching, practice and outstanding performance in graduate medical education.
Navy Lt. (Dr.) Sean A. Lacey earned the Outstanding Intern Award. Navy Lt. (Dr.) Serennah E. Harding received the Lt. Neil Holland Award for the house staff member who best exemplifies excellence in teaching, humanitarianism, ability as a clinician, instructor, counselor and mentor voted on by the intern class.
Army Capt. (Dr.) Adam M. Barelski earned the Outstanding Faculty Award.
Army Capt. (Dr.) Anton Vlasov (resident) and Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Mae Wu Healy received the Gen. Graves B. Erskine Award for the Outstadning resident and fellow as determined by a selection committee.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) William A. Cronin earned the Maj. Gen. Lewis A. Mologne Award for the physician in training who best exemplifies those quality of the late general, including a commitment to the care of patients, loyalty to country, respect for truth, honesty and dedication to the practice of medicine as exemplified by Mologne.
Col. (Dr.) Jeffrey A. Mikita received the Vice Adm. James A. Zimble Award as the program director whose contribution, dedication and interest in teaching have significantly supported the WRNMMC GME program.
Navy Capt. (Dr.) Gregory H. Gorman earned the staff physician teacher of the year award.
Army Lt. Cols. (Drs.) Micah J. Hill and Melvin D. Helgeson earned the Lt. Gen. Claire L. Chennault faculty recognition awards for overall teaching excellence.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Benjamin R. Hershey received the Chennault award for outstanding psychiatry faculty member.
Dr. Anuradha Ganesan earned the GME mentor award.
Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) John M. Csokmay III earned the Innovative Curriculum Award.
Navy Capt. (Dr.) William T. Shimeall received the Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Award.
Theresa Kiefer earned Program Coordinator of the Year Award.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) George C. Balazas and Army Maj. (Dr.) Gabriel J. Pavey earned the Bailey K. Ashford Clinical Research and Laboratory Research Awards, respectively.
And those earning the Robert A. Phillips Awards included: Navy Lt. (Dr.) Luke Johnston (resident clinical study); Air Force Col. (Dr.) Matthew Ritter (staff clinical study); Army Capt. (Dr.) Christopher Daniels (resident laboratory study); Army Maj. (Dr.) Kristen P. Zeligs (fellow laboratory study); and poster winners Army Capts. Elizabeth Cleveland and Ana H. Isfort.