Defining moments: retired major general continues service as volunteer surgeon
August 16, 2012
FORT BLISS, Texas -- Carla Hawley-Bowland stands outside an operating room in the Labor and Delivery Department at William Beaumont Army Medical Center here.
The 60-year-old doctor is clad in green scrubs. Bright red shoes -- a gift from the staff at Walter Reed Medical Center -- are hidden beneath a pair of blue booties.
She is a surgeon waiting for her patient.
Hawley-Bowland is also a retired Army major general, and the first female general officer in the Army Medical Corps. She was commander of WBAMC from July 2000 to July 2002.
She's a mother, a grandmother, a cook, a skier, a hand bell musician and an American Red Cross volunteer. The latter position is one that has combined with the first in what Hawley-Bowland sees as her very "definition."
She is a volunteer surgeon at WBAMC.
"I wanted to come back to my happy place," Hawley-Bowland said, referring to the operating room -- a venue of choice for a 32-year career military officer who followed her passion for obstetrics and gynecologic surgery.
Even as the last commanding general of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Hawley-Bowland kept a pair of scrubs in her office -- just in case.
"At Walter Reed I would have appointments all day. The surgeons would call my aide and ask 'Can the general come to the operating room?' And if I wasn't going to the Pentagon or to the Surgeon General's Office, I was putting on my scrubs and going to the O.R.," she said.
For more than three decades, Hawley-Bowland thrived in the operating room setting -- a skilled and eager surgeon not likely to turn down an invite to help out a patient, a medical professional or an operating room staff in need.
"It was my stress management as a general officer. Now the rest of the operating room staff may have been stressed because the general's in the O.R. But I was happy."
Just one day after stepping back from her Army career, Hawley-Bowland stepped into the shoes of a volunteer in the WBAMC Department of Women's Health. She assists with vaginal and abdominal gynecological surgeries.
"Everyone in our department loves working with her," said Lt. Col. Charles Pattan, chief of the Department of Women's Health at WBAMC. "It's a testament to what a unique character she is. I've never seen or heard of anything like this before."
The shock is a little bit of the same that Hawley-Bowland endured as an active duty general in the O.R. -- a few double takes, lifted eyebrows from patients and some ear-to-ear smiles from staff members.
Today, the shock centers on one question.
"Why would a doctor volunteer?" said Mary Hetz, interim station manager for the American Red Cross at WBAMC, verbalizing the question that often pops up in reference to Hawley-Bowland.
But for Hetz, a longtime friend of Hawley-Bowland, the altruism comes as no surprise.
"It shows her dedication, her love for her profession, for teaching and for the military population," Hetz said. "She could have volunteered elsewhere, but she wanted to come back here."
Hawley-Bowland began her military career in 1979 with the U.S. Air Force -- her undergraduate degree from Colorado State University and her doctor of medicine degree from Creighton University under the U.S. Air Force Health Professionals Scholarship Program.
After a general surgery internship at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, she transferred to the Army as a general medical officer. She completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center before being assigned to Carl R. Darnall Army Community Hospital in Fort Hood, Texas.
Walking down the hallways of WBAMC, Hawley-Bowland is greeted at almost every department by a familiar face -- people, officers and staff -- with whom she has worked at some duty station during her time in service.
Her last two decades in the military included a progression in rank to a first for the Army -- a female general in the Medical Corps -- and a continued dedication to teaching incoming Army medical residents "the tricks of the trade" for gynecological surgeries.
"It's an incredible opportunity for all of our residents and doctors," Pattan said of the retired general's presence in the WBAMC operating rooms.
Hawley-Bowland can ramble off names of former residents and present-day Army surgeons who still write to her via email giving updates of spreading the good news of her "old, but trusted techniques" in surgery.
Back in the O.R., Hawley-Bowland noted "now I'm back being the real me." Clad in green scrubs and a radiating smile, the Red Cross volunteer had a bit of advice for incoming surgeons, doctors and medical staff.
"Don't pick something for the hours, for the money or because it's what somebody else wants you to do, because you won't love it. You won't have that passion," Hawley-Bowland said, repeating a pearl of wisdom she has passed down for decades to young residents.
"(Volunteering) is a way that I can continue to do my passion. This defines me."
Retired or not, paid or not, volunteer or not, Hawley-Bowland is a surgeon.