Departing DoD Official Reflects on Military Health System Improvements
As she prepares to step down Jan. 20, the Defense Department’s top medical official reflected on her five-and-a-half year tenure at the Pentagon, notably a comprehensive review of the Military Health System.
Dr. Karen S. Guice, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, performing the duties of the assistant secretary for health affairs, focused the MHS review on the safety and quality of health care in military treatment facilities, which provides health care for more than 9.6 million beneficiaries.
“That’s something that we can look back on as collaborative, good work that really has set a trajectory of improvement for the military health system,” Guice said in a DoD News interview.
Guice explained that the services, Health Affairs and the Defense Health Agency worked together to develop a way of assessing the Military Health System from the patient’s perspective in terms of access, quality of care and expectations. “It was a hallmark event, but it was a collective effort that we all contributed to,” she said.
Since succeeding Dr. Jonathan Woodson, Guice noted, the amount of travel was one of the most surprising elements of her current position.
“While I knew that Dr. Woodson was traveling, I didn’t actually feel the impact until I was the one on the plane going somewhere,” she said. “The ASD position is more outward facing and upward facing, and there’s a lot more engagement with the interagency working groups and groups outside of the department.”
The heightened collaboration the position requires necessitated a slight adjustment period in becoming familiar with acronyms, particularly in the military environment, Guise said. “I had never served in the military, but members of my immediate family did,” she added. “So getting used to the language people used … was the thing I had to get used to very quickly.”
And while Guice acknowledged that organization, communication and forward-thinking skills are among the most common leadership traits, patience and good humor may have paid off the most for her.
“I think you have to be patient, particularly when you’re working in large bureaucracies such as the federal government -- you have to take the long-term view,” she said. “We rarely do things in an agile, fast way, and there’s a reason for that – we do it in a thoughtful more step-wise approach. That’s a good thing.”
Humor, she added, “can get you through a lot of hardship, hard times, and make everybody’s life a little easier and a little lighter.”
As she prepares to begin the next chapter in her life, Guice admitted she was not sure what will come next, other than rest and the assurance of leaving an improved Military Health System. “I want to take a little time off and enjoy a good night’s sleep,” she said. “I’ll take about a month off, and then I’ll start worrying about what I’ll do next.”
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)