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Paying Tribute:  Women as the Military Faces of Neurosurgery

Randy S. Bell MD, FAANS
Associate Professor and Chief, Neurological Surgery
Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences
Bethesda, MD

Please note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army/Navy/Air Force, Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Veterans Day is an appropriate opportunity to pay tribute to the contributions of the many military neurosurgeons who have made significant contributions and sacrifice. This storied history is filled with contributions from many of our field’s current and former leaders including Harvey Cushing, MD; Ludwig G. Kempe; Hugo V. Rizzoli, MD; Patrick J. Kelly, MD, FAANS; Michael L. J. Apuzzo, MD, FAANS; and Richard G. Ellenbogen, MD, FAANS (just to name a few). Less known are the outstanding women who have changed this field.

  • The first woman to graduate from residency in Bethesda, CAPT (Ret) Cynthia Piccirilli;
  • The first woman neurosurgeon to deploy to the Role III hospitals in Iraq, MAJ (sep) Carrie Shulman; and
  • The recent graduates from the Medical College of Georgia, LCDR Angela Viers and SUNY-Buffalo, LCDR Lindsay Lipinski.

Our women leaders provide the best example of courage, mentorship, service and commitment.

There have been significant contributions by women in surgery and I am carrying that concept forward by highlighting three of my mentors who lead the way for women in military neurosurgery, military medicine and all of neurosurgery.

CAPT Lisa Mulligan MC, USN

I first met CAPT Mulligan during a visit to Walter Reed as a medical student in June 2000. She had recently completed her residency at the National Capital Consortium, a fellowship in epilepsy and functional neurosurgery with Dennis D. Spencer, MD, FAANS, at Yale, and was then core clinical faculty at Walter Reed and National Naval Medical Center. She established herself early as a surgeon with superlative technical skill and as a mentor that inspired performance. CAPT Mulligan deployed to the Persian Gulf aboard the USNS Comfort in 2003 and quickly ascended to the position of department head at National Naval Medical Center upon her return in 2004. Her leadership accomplishments include:

  • First integrated neurosurgery service chief between Walter Reed and National Naval in 2007;
  • Leadership roles at Walter Reed including president of the medical staff and the director of surgical services;
  • Executive officer/chief of staff at the Naval Medical Center-San Diego; and
  • Selection from a highly competitive peer group to become the hospital commander at the Naval Hospital-Camp Pendleton, a tour which earned her the United States Military’s Legion of Merit.

CAPT Mulligan is now the Chief Medical Officer for the United States Navy and maintains a neurosurgery practice at Walter Reed. She is leading the way for Navy medicine as we move forward in the era of quality improvement. Lisa was a mentor to me throughout my residency at Walter Reed. I still remember the very first question she asked me at an academic conference my first day as a resident: “What, Dr. Bell, is the Obersteiner-Redlich zone?” I learned from her the technical nuances of pituitary surgery and amygdalohippocampectomy for mesial temporal sclerosis (MTS). While I value these technical attributes, what I remember most, and try to emulate, is her incredible attention to detail.  CAPT Mulligan continues to serve with distinction on active duty today.

CDR (ret) Diana Wiseman MC, USN

I first met CDR Wiseman on July 18, 2010. She was then the department head for neurosurgery at the U.S. Navy’s largest forward-deployed hospital in Okinawa, Japan. She trained at the University of North Carolina and completed her fellowship in complex spine with Christopher I. Shaffrey, MD, FAANS (also former active duty, U.S. Navy) at the University of Washington in Seattle. She served tours at the United States Naval Hospital (USNH) San Diego and the USNH-Okinawa. While not a war zone per se, Okinawa is the tip of the spear and an important location for U.S. military operations in the Pacific. Diana served there as one of two U.S. military neurosurgeons in the western Pacific. Okinawa was my first duty assignment out of fellowship, and I could not have asked for a better mentor at the start of my career. Diana is a technically gifted spine surgeon as well as one of the most caring people I know. Though Okinawa is a resource-limited environment, there was no case she was unwilling to tackle. I learned from her the critical element of judgment, specifically the difference between what I was trained to do as a neurosurgeon with what I could do in a forward deployed, resource-limited environment. What I will never forget, and always be grateful for, was Diana’s dedication to the forward-deployed service men and women under her care. When asked what was most significant to her concerning her time on active duty, Diana responded: “The general deep sense of purpose and commitment of physicians to the military. I felt such a deep sense of pride in my country and the people who worked so hard to protect it.”

Diana was selected from a very competitive pool to become a Captain in the U.S. Navy but retired from active duty in 2015 before pinning on her rank. After retirement, she went on to complete her MBA from the Duke University School of business, focusing on health care sector management.

Stacey C. Quintero Wolfe MD, FAANS (LCDR USN Sep)

There may be no better example of the fearless academic neurosurgeon than Stacey C. Quintero Wolfe MD, FAANS.  Stacey began her military career as an intern at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego and completed her neurosurgery residency and fellowship at the Jackson Memorial Hospital under the direction of Roberto C. Heros, MD, FAANS(L). She was then stationed at the Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii where she quickly became chief of neurosurgery. While her time on active duty was relatively short, her impact was substantial. Stacey was the first U.S. Navy asset to be stationed at Tripler, an Army Hospital. Her fellowship training was as a cerebrovascular neurosurgeon and interventional neuroradiologist, and at the time she was stationed in Hawaii she was one of two people on the island to be able to do endovascular procedures. She was the first neurosurgeon to perform these procedures at Tripler and did so successfully without senior mentorship. What impresses me most about Stacey is her fearless resiliency. During the winter and spring of 2011, Stacey’s neurosurgery partners deployed to Iraq leaving her in solo practice at a busy level II trauma center. Rather than complain, Stacey nearly continuously covered call during this entire time, with just two short breaks. She tackled every case that came through the door without hesitation and did so alone. When Stacey left Tripler in 2013, her impact was such that, though they never had the capability before Stacey, the hospital demanded that she be replaced with another endovascular neurosurgeon. When asked to summarize what her time on active duty meant to her, she had this to say:

While each of us with military service had unique opportunities and challenges, we each had the benefit of leaders that came alongside of us, passing along learned wisdom and teaching by example. We learned from the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines whom we led. We learned from a system, which is structured to function under the greatest of stressors, and to be stronger on the other side. We learned to take the resources we had to lead from the front, to foster resiliency, to own our decisions, and to build and function as a team. . . The lessons I learned in the military are directly applicable to neurosurgery, and I put them into use in my daily practice.

Stacey separated from the US Navy in 2013, and is now associate professor of neurosurgery and the residency program director at Wake Forest University.

During Veterans Day weekend, I offer praise for all these aforementioned mentors who have shaped my career as enormously deserving Military Faces of Neurosurgery. They are role models for all who now serve and will serve as military neurosurgeons.

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