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Creative Thought at Work Serving “wounded warriors”


“I’m not worried about America’s fu- ture,” says Rear Admiral Karen Oxley Flaherty ’74. “I’m not worried about the young men and women of America. These folks have a profound commitment to this country—it’s very humbling.” Currently the deputy surgeon general in the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Flaherty says she’s seen bravery, sacrifice, and dedi- cation throughout the enlisted and officer ranks during her long career. She reflects that choosing military


service was somewhat unusual at Skid- more in her day, but says it’s been an ex- hilarating journey, from the front lines of combat medicine to the stratosphere of Washington’s military leadership. As a nursing major, she spent her sophomore and junior years training in New York City. As College Government Association president, she had occasion to meet the Navy’s nurse recruiter in the city and be- came intrigued with the idea of the serv- ice. She earned a scholarship to be a Nurse Corps candidate for her senior year, and joined up for two years. As often happens in the military, those two years became almost 10. “It was an exciting time,” she reflects. “Every three years, I was assigned to someplace new, where I met new people and learned new skills.” One of those new people is now her husband, Steven, a Navy doctor. They mar- ried in 1982, and Flaherty came off active duty but stayed in the Re- serves because, she


says, “the Navy was my first love.” In 1991 she was recalled to serve with the 500-bed Fleet Hospital 15 at Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia, in support of Operation Desert Shield/Storm, and later was ap- pointed its commanding officer. In 2007 the Navy’s surgeon general asked Flaherty to return to active duty as an admiral. She served in health-care op- erations and later as the director of the Nurse Corps and as deputy chief of the


28 SCOPE WINTER 2011


Wounded, Ill, and Injured team, developing programs to meet the unique needs of “wounded warriors” and their families. She notes with satisfaction the gen- erosity of Congress and the American people in sup- porting these programs. Flaherty is also proud of the trauma centers established in forward locations, em- phasizing how beneficial such front-line treatment is for service members in to - day’s conflicts. She cites a 95 percent survival rate among the wounded, even with the horrific injuries sometimes inflicted by “im- provised explosive devices.” As an example of creative problem-solving, she points to the creation of a Marine Corps injury database that has helped chart blast pat- terns—tragic but crucial in- formation that’s been used in improving the design of body armor.


KAREN OXLEY FLAHERTY ’74 HELPS STEER THE NAVY’S MEDICAL BUREAU.


“MY LIBERAL ARTS BACKGROUND PREPARED ME TO QUESTION, TO BE INQUISITIVE, TO SEE THINGS


FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE, TO BE OPEN TO OPPORTUNITY, SURPRISES, AND MENTORING.”


As part of her duties, Flaherty is re- sponsible for the conditioning of Navy forces heading to or returning from com- bat duty. She says “resilience training” is vital and asserts that modern Navy medicine must ad- dress both the phys- ical and psychologi- cal components of


military service—for those who fight, as well as for their family members left be- hind. Another development she cites is the ethnic and gender diversity in Navy medicine. “We look more like the fabric of the country,” she says. Some 40 per- cent of Navy nurses are male, whereas in the general population that figure is clos- er to 20 percent. “We have so many diverse occupa- tions, roles, and assignments for both


men and women,” she says. “Enlistees come in, get excellent training, then can choose to go on to college through an enlisted commissioning program. After- ward, they serve out their commission in different roles, and may pursue an entire career in the service.” She herself earned her master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania with the help of the G.I. Bill. As for her Skidmore education, she observes, “My liberal arts background prepared me to question, to be inquisi- tive, to see things from a different per- spective, and to be open to opportunity, surprises, and mentoring.” What’s the next port of call for Admi- ral Flaherty? Retirement might be on the horizon, possibly a job in the private sec- tor, maybe some antiquing with husband Steve, some time on Cape Cod, and cer- tainly enjoying the close-quarters com- bat of Philadelphia Flyers hockey. —Jon Wurtmann ’78


COURTESY OF US NAVY, BUREAU OF MEDICINE AND SURGERY


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