Birthplace: Sangley Point Navy Base, Philippines
Undergraduate: Revelle College, University of California at San Diego, 1977
Medical school: Uniformed Services University School of Medicine, 1981
Residency: Naval Hospital San Diego, California: Internal Medicine 1984-1986
Specialty: Board-certified Internal Medicine
In June 1992, Dr. Mariano became the first military woman in American history to be appointed White House Physician. Dr. Mariano served nine years at the White House where she was physician to three sitting American Presidents.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
First I wanted to be a teacher, then a nun, then a secretary.
What led to your interest in medicine?
I attended a career day lecture at my junior high school overseas where a physician from the Navy Clinic was talking to us about being a doctor (OB/GYN) and I decided then I wanted to be a doctor.
Who or what inspired you?
Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
Mostly discouraged me. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college or med school, so I worked my way through college and received scholarships. I attended the military medical school because it was a full scholarship and also because I loved the military.
How did you prepare for the medical school application process?
I took a seminar at my undergraduate college about how to interview for med school.
Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?
Yes, I’m a lousy test-taker. I didn’t do as well as I had hoped. If I had to do it all over again, I would have taken a review course on how to take the MCAT exam.
Do you remember your first day of medical school? What memory stands out the most?
The first day was very unusual since we were all on active duty, wearing combat fatigues and carrying M-16s at Fort Meade in Maryland. It felt like a scene from the television show "M*A*S*H."
What was your first year of medical school like?
Very tough! As they say, like taking a drink of water from a fire hydrant. The amount of material to learn was overwhelming.
What obstacles did you overcome in your medical school journey?
I’m not a good test-taker, so I didn’t score well on standardized tests. I moved to Maryland from my home in California so I was away from family and friends. It was very lonely.
What did you enjoy most about medical school?
The clinical practice of seeing patients.
What surprised you the most about medical school?
The many hours of studying and long hours being in the hospital. It is all consuming.
Are you a member of a unique demographic? If so, please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.
I’m a Filipino-American woman always being mistaken as a nurse or a foreign graduate. Always being underestimated—my life story!
Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.
I was on active duty at medical school, so I spent my a summer at New London, Conn., learning about diving medicine and submarines.
How did you balance your personal time with medical school?
I try to schedule time to exercise and visit with friends.
How has your military experience shaped your career?
It made me a better doctor, leader, and appreciative of America.
How did you get the opportunity to be the White House Physician?
I was nominated by my boss at the Navy Hospital San Diego. Please read my book, "The White House Doctor: My Patients were Presidents: A Memoir," for more details.
What was it like to be the White House physician?
Very humbling and exhilarating at the same time. Please read my book!
What is a concierge physician and why did you decide to pursue that kind of private practice?
A concierge physician is a doctor who works on retainer basis for her/his patients. We don’t take insurance. We work directly for our patients. They pay a membership access fee to be our patient and we are available 24/7 to our patients. My nine years as White House Doctor prepared me for concierge practice.
What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?
Make sure your GPA is high in college (work hard) and you score high on the MCAT exam (if you don’t do well on tests, take a course on how to score well). Medical schools won’t consider you unless you meet their minimum criteria for GPA and MCAT scores. For financing: ask from the “Bank of Mom and Dad” to help, along with personal savings. Also get a part-time job in college to help finance med school. The military is also a great opportunity for funding and a career. But make sure it is a good fit for your life—that you’re OK taking orders from senior officers, that you are willing to work in a combat zone, that you are OK moving every 2 to 3 yrs, and that you enjoy an adventure the military life can offer.
Do you have additional information or thoughts to share that would be helpful to prospective students?
Make sure you love patients and science!
If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him/her, off the top of your head?
Be prepared to work hard and sacrifice your time—but it’s worth it.
What advice would you give to medical students interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?
Be persistent, don’t take “no” as a final answer.