A career in military medicine
May 31, 2022
What led Cmdr. Katharine I. Mangan MC, USN, down the dual path of medical and military service?
The 1997 Culver Girls Academy graduate told the audience at the Gold Star Ceremony Memorial Day there are “seemingly obvious answers.” Her great admiration for her grandfather who served more than 30 years as a naval aviator, including winning a flying cross and other decorations. Her close relationship with her great aunt, who was an Air force lieutenant colonel and served as a flight nurse bringing the injured back from overseas.
And her time at Culver Academies, where she was “immersed in organized leadership environment and wearing a uniform,” contributed to her choice.
“I have long considered attending Culver to be the greatest decision of my life and consider the education, leadership skills and life lessons learned on the banks of Lake Max to be part of a strong foundation on which I have continued to build upon as I have progressed on my journey.”
The greatest influence, though, “was an internal sense of obligation that I have always felt and which is best summarized by the words of John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address from 1961 when he called on those listening to be contributors to our great society.”
“’And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.
“’My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.’”
Mangan explained those words carry so much meaning personally because she learned early in life that her rights “as a female were not guaranteed. I was fortunate to have been born in a country where women had won many rights and where the battle for equality would be continually fought.”
Her family friends were raised in a country in the Middle East where girls and women didn’t have the same rights. After a divorce, her friends had to live in a part of the country where there was no international airport “because their father had repeatedly attempted to kidnap the children and take them to his native country.”
Being made aware of her opportunities has led her to “appreciate those who served our great country and, above all, those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
The roads she has traveled “have been challenging,” Mangan said, not because she was a woman or that she was specifically trying to challenge herself. It was simply her path “and I wasn’t going to stop because someone said I didn’t belong or it wasn’t a path seen as being for women.”
She started playing hockey in the Chicago area, making many teams coed along the way. She came to Culver and played for the CMA team. “This would also prove to be a challenge in and of itself,” she said.
After playing NCAA Division I hockey at Colby College, where she majored in biology. Mangan planned to follow a path in veterinary medicine but realized it wasn’t a good fit, so she began to look at medical school. “I became aware of the role of military physicians through friends from college who had pursued this career field and became instantly intrigued.”
As she looked at medical schools, she researched the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences “and immediately knew that not only was military medicine the correct path but that USU was where I wanted to study.”
She opted for a surgical specialty. “During my medical school rotations and through shadowing a staff orthopedic surgeon, whom I met on the medical school’s ice hockey team, I discovered my passion for orhopedic surgery.” Now she is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, of which just 6% are women.
“While the Navy has progressed over the years in their diversity there is work to be done,” Mangan explained. “Women comprise just 19% of active duty, a number that gets increasingly smaller with rising rank. Fifteen percent of naval officers who achieve the rank 04-06 are women. For those who rise to admiral, a mere 8% are women.”
And while Mangan wishes she could refer to her accomplishments simply as achievements, they are something she has had to fight for through the inequality. Still, she is “eternally grateful for that opportunity to prove myself and fulfill my dreams. Without those who have gone before me to defend our freedom and those who have opened doors, much of what I have pursued would have been impossible or nearly so.”
Asking what she could do for her country, Mangan said she could help ensure these opportunities persist for future generations. That is what led her into military medicine. The motto of the Uniformed Services University is “taking care of those in harm’s way.” And she has spent much of her time serving during war. When she is not taking care of the badly wounded, she is keeping others “warfighter ready” treating sports mishaps, fractures, and overuse injuries.
Her hope is that what she has done for our country and world not only defends the Constitution of the United States of America but also the rights of women and other minorities. And by defending democracy alongside other countries, her efforts have contributed to global human rights and shown others “what is possible.”
She then implored the students “as future leaders and global citizens” to ask themselves what they can do for their country and the world and “to set out on your journeys with that in mind. I can assure you Culver has equipped you to answer this calling.”
Mangan added that, no matter how difficult the journey is, remember “many people have paid the ultimate price to make those differences and protect our rights including freedom. Fight for the opportunity for yourself and for the next generation and keep fighting, for even after we make grounds they can be lost.”