For National Doctors Day, surgeon reflects on a career and future in military medicine
Dr. Andrew Findley, program manager for Quality, Graduate Medical Education, and Medical Accession and Retention Incentives, for the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs), today at his office in Falls Church, Virginia, and (inset) in 1984 as a third-year medical student at the University of South Alabama.
MOre than 17,000 doctors work in the Military Health System. Many wear a uniform of an Armed Service on active duty, or in the National Guard or Reserve. Others serve as civilian physicians. They work across the globe, in big hospitals and in aid stations on the battlefield. The MHS honors our physicians during National Doctors Day March 30, a day to recognize their years of sacrifice and service to warfighters, retirees, and families.
Dr. Andrew Findley, a retired Navy captain with more than 35 years’ experience, has dedicated his life to being a doctor. Findley, a surgical oncologist, serves as program manager for Quality, Graduate Medical Education, and Medical Accession and Retention Incentives for the assistant secretary of Defense (Health Affairs), Health Services Policy and Oversight Division.
“Going into medicine was always my goal, even back in high school,” said Findley. “Science and mathematics were my strong suits in school. My dad wanted to be a physician but never pursued it. So he wanted his kids to be doctors.”
Findley’s connection to the military spans several generations. His father served in the Navy during World War II, and his grandfather served in World War I. In 1981, Findley followed suit through the Health Professions Scholarship Program, attending the University of South Alabama, located in his hometown of Mobile. From then on, the pieces started falling in place for a long career in military medicine. He worked his way through medical school rotations, as all young doctors do, and sampled the different medical avenues available before choosing to be a surgeon.
“I loved my surgery rotations,” he said. “When you’re doing surgery, you’re able to fix a problem a patient has and make them better, almost right away. There’s an immediate gratification and sense of accomplishment.”
But Findley was quick to point out that he liked most of his rotations as a young doctor, and each experience gave him something to build upon to be a more complete health care provider.
“When you’re in medical school and residency,” he said, “you learn from the residents above you and your teaching staff. You see the approaches they take to caring for a patient and incorporate their best practices into your own practice. I learned how to diagnose a problem, how to identify whether the problem could be fixed with surgery, how to do the operation, and most importantly, how to talk with a patient and explain things in terms they can understand.”
Now, as the person in charge of policy for the MHS medical education programs, he provides other military and civilian doctors with the system to teach by example.
“One thing I’ve always told residents,” said Findley, “is take time to sit down with your patient and connect with that person. It makes a huge difference.” Findley admitted that bedside manner skills can be just as crucial as those required for a complicated surgery, but said there are no guidelines for talking with a patient. “You have to learn to speak in a conversational way using layman’s terms. Sometimes, when we’re in a hurry, we forget that.”
After retiring from a Navy career that took him all over the world, including tours in Iraq and the Middle East, Findley has spent the past year as a Department of Defense civilian, using his military experience to improve policies related to education and retention. He recalled advice he once received from a surgeon who was senior to him, and said it was worthy of repeating.
“In the operating room, you really are the captain of the ship,” said Findley. “You can never lose your cool or composure. It’s advice that’s good outside the operating room as well.”