By Mass Communication Specialists 2nd Class Jessica L. Tounzen, Naval Medical Center San Diego Public Affairs
SAN DIEGO – She exudes a soft-spoken persona that belies the passions within: her dogs, her father, the military, and last but not least, Navy medicine. Since her arrival at Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) in July, Capt. (Dr.) Lisa Mulligan has made it clear she can achieve anything she sets her mind to, be it personal or professional…and she’s passionate about paying it forward to the nearly 6,500 personnel in her charge.
Mulligan’s office walls are adorned with photographs of her dogs: a gentle giant Great Pyrenees, two feisty-looking Pekinese, and a Basset Hound/German Shepherd mix. A native of Lawrenceville, N.J., Mulligan is a dog-show aficionado; her furry babies have won several obedience awards. A wide smile brightens her whole face as she affectionately describes their personalities: her little black Pekinese is apparently the dog show champion of the family; the biggest dog, the Great Pyrenees, won his first title but due to a case of dog-show nerves, his career was cut short, leaving the glory to his smaller sibling, who, in the photos, proudly claims his prize onstage.
As for Mulligan, her pride in her duties as a Sailor, scientist, scholar, and leader, began to take shape before she even put on the uniform.
“My dad had enlisted in the 1950s and the whole time I was growing up he always talked about how much he loved the Navy,” she revealed. “He was stationed on an aircraft carrier and got to see some of Europe, visit the Far East, and it was a great opportunity for him. So to me it was very enticing,” she added with a smile.
When Mulligan graduated Harvard College in 1989 she discovered an interest in medicine. So when she heard about the opportunities available through the Navy and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), she didn’t hesitate. Commissioned as an ensign in June 1989 shortly after graduating with her Bachelor’s in Biology, Mulligan enrolled in USUHS and chose her specialty… she wanted to delve into the human brain.
“I liked the challenge of it, and I thought it was such an interesting area because there’s so much we don’t know about the brain,” she said.
Mulligan’s fascination with the human brain only continued to grow as she completed her medical degree and the internship, residency and fellowship that followed.
Her favorite part of being a neurosurgeon, aside from exploring uncharted areas in medicine, is the work itself, “I’ve done operations on pituitary glands, surgeries to treat epilepsy, and I’ve treated movement disorders where we put in deep-brain stimulators for things like Parkinson’s Disease. Those groups are often so happy after the surgery, because you just restore them to such a better level of function,” she explained with pride.
Mulligan’s pride in her career as a neurosurgeon equals that of her role as a Sailor.
“First and foremost I love the collegiality of the military,” she revealed. “On the outside it’s much more financially-driven, and very competitive. In the military, if you want an extra opinion or extra assistance in the OR [Operating Room], you can get it. People are very willing to help each other,” she said. “The other thing I like about the Navy is that it gives you a lot of career flexibility. For years I practiced full-time as a surgeon and then I decided to take a slightly different course [executive medicine pathway], and it was very easy to do that.”
That course led her to NMCSD. Mulligan has not been shy about expressing her pride in those who will be her extended family for the next two years.
“I have been so impressed with the staff here—there is such an incredible amount of engagement on all levels,” she enthused. “The most junior folks at the deck plate level speak very fluently [to their areas of expertise] and have such a great command of their job. People are upbeat and positive and willing to help, even as I’m learning my way around the command, everyone has been incredibly friendly and helpful.”
Mulligan explains her military and medical philosophy, “I want to wear the uniform with pride and I want to take care of people. When it comes to taking care of patients, I really try to think of them as if they were my parents or someone else I was close to, and treat them with that level of respect and concern.”
In addition to leading the largest Military Treatment Facility in the Western Pacific, Mulligan will continue to provide patient care at NMCSD on a biweekly rotation, beginning in late August. She understands the importance of keeping her skills sharp while helping to mentor those working their way up the ranks. To those just embarking on their medical careers, Mulligan offers this piece of advice: “Become a true expert in what you do, whatever your specialty is. Take the time when you are junior and get really good at your craft, and once you develop that professional expertise everything else will fall into place. If you know what you want, just persist at your goal. And try to have a sense of humor!” she added with a smile.
Mulligan is the first female to hold the Deputy Commander position at NMCSD. She is also one of only three female neurosurgeons in Navy Medicine. To learn more about Capt. Lisa Mulligan, visit: https://www.med.navy.mil/sites/nmcsd/CommandInfo/Pages/xo.aspx