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Walter Reed Leads the Way Celebrating National Women Physicians Day

30 January 2024

From James Black

By James A. BlackWRNMMC Office of Command CommunicationsWomen Physicians: Pioneering Health Care and Patient-Centered ServiceFor more than a century, women physicians have contributed to the success of medical care in the United States, playing vital roles in saving the lives of children, adolescents, adults and wounded, ill or injured services
By James A. Black
WRNMMC Office of Command Communications

Women Physicians: Pioneering Health Care and Patient-Centered Service

For more than a century, women physicians have contributed to the success of medical care in the United States, playing vital roles in saving the lives of children, adolescents, adults and wounded, ill or injured services members.

With that in mind, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center joins a global community of stakeholders celebrating National Women Physicians Day, also known as Women Physicians Day or Women in Medicine Day, an annual observance held on February 3.

This day honors the pioneering achievements and ongoing contributions of female physicians in the field of health care. It commemorates the trailblazing spirit of Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, who, in 1849, became the first American woman to earn a medical degree, paving the way for countless female doctors to follow.

Walter Reed: Talented Women Physicians Transform Military Medicine

U.S. Navy Capt. (Dr.) Melissa Austin assumed directorship of Walter Reed during a historic change of leadership ceremony in Memorial Auditorium, becoming the first woman director of Walter Reed. On July 5, 2023, she assumed the helm of the world’s most revered military hospital, often referred to as “The President’s Hospital,” during a period of transformation for the historic campus.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” emphasized Austin in thanking her mentor outgoing Walter Reed director, U.S. Navy Capt. Felix A. Drew Bigby. “That’s why my goal is that each of you have the same passion, purpose, and pride for military medical service that I do,” pledged Austin - promising to embrace the challenges of leading the military’s flagship hospital by empowering creativity and collaboration each day.

Within weeks of taking the helm, Austin created an ambitious Director’s 12 Initiatives Campaign focused on improving patient-centered care, elevating sustainability, and creating rapid hiring events to enhance recruitment and retention success.

Austin, the daughter of a career Army officer, graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering and earned a commission through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) in 1996.

She spent seven years in the surface warfare community before earning her Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and completing her residency training in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology at the University of Washington Medical Center.

Walter Reed’s Women Health Services Director Champions Pioneering Surgery

When you meet Dr. Candice Jones-Cox, the Women's Health Services director at Walter Reed, you will learn that she's a fierce patient advocate and a meticulous surgeon, passionately learning cutting-edge techniques to adapt to an ever-changing medical landscape. She's an obstetrician-gynecologist (OBGYN), highly adept at performing complex women's surgeries – especially hysterectomies.

Jones-Cox became the first surgeon in the Department of Defense medical community to perform a robotic minimally invasive natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery (vNOTES), vastly reducing a patient's recovery time and discomfort while minimizing hospital stays.

"One of the limits of a strictly vaginal hysterectomy is that you can't see the upper abdomen," explained Jones-Cox. "Now, with vNOTES, we can evaluate the upper abdomen and the ovaries and uterus," on an operating room monitor with images transmitted by a camera.

Jones-Cox conducts extensive interviews with patients before recommending a hysterectomy, asking questions about a patient's quality of life, including menstruation cycles and sleep patterns. "Once the patient decides that she believes a hysterectomy is the right choice, then it's all about supporting them.”

"When I see the patients postoperatively, they have energy, are smiling, and are pain-free." That's gratifying for Jones-Cox, who enjoys empowering patients to make transformative decisions.

Walter Reed Eye Institute Director Promotes Global Vision Health Initiatives

As part of National Glaucoma Awareness Month, each January the Walter Reed Eye Institute joins stakeholders in a global 30-day campaign to encourage everyone over 40 to have annual eye exams. “We are fortunate to have excellent tools to diagnose glaucoma,” shared U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Rachel A. Lieberman, the program director for the National Capital Consortium (NCC).

The Walter Reed Eye Institute (WREI) continually upgrades its equipment to protect the vision of military families. “Some new acquisitions include a laser for treating glaucoma and a laser for performing [laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis] LASIK and other types of refractive surgery,” explained Lieberman, who is a medical doctor specializing in ophthalmology, licensed to both treat eye diseases and perform eye surgeries.

“Many of our physicians volunteer their free time, aiding the Prevention of Blindness Society, a local non-profit in Montgomery County, Maryland,” shared Lieberman – who credits her mentors with imbuing her with a sense of public service.

“I’ve been fortunate to have multiple mentors throughout my career,” recalled Lieberman who credits U.S. Air Force Col. Rand Morris, who led the ROTC detachment at the University of California, Berkeley for encouraging her to join the service.

Lieberman, like her WREI predecessor retired U.S. Army Col. (Dr.) Won I. Kim, believes in the value of “paying it forward.” Kim continues to mentor WREI stakeholders, providing insight “on everything from surgical technique to resident education,” confided Lieberman.

To learn more about the impact of women in medicine, visit the below links:

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