A career caring for the heart: Dr. Mary Whooley practices medicine and studies ways to improve Veterans’ cardiac health

Dr. Mary Whooley’s research focuses on implementation of the “Healthy Heart” program to help Veterans recover after a cardiovascular event.


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Dr. Mary Whooley is a board-certified physician and Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) San Francisco Health Care System. Dr. Whooley began her 25-year career at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) as a primary care physician. After taking advantage of the education and training opportunities offered by her VA career, Dr. Whooley grew into a position that allows her to care for patients while conducting learning healthcare systems and implementation science research with the goal of improving the quality of life for Veterans with cardiovascular disease. She also serves as the principal investigator of the VA Measurement Science Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QERI). Her research led to the development of the Whooley Questions depression screening.

In this installment of our #ChooseVALeadership Careers blog series and to help kick off our #FemaleLeaderFridays Women’s History Month celebration, Dr. Whooley explains why she thinks she made the right choice to work at VA and describes the parts of the job that continue to inspire her today.

What is your primary job at VA?

As Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation at the San Francisco VA Health Care System, part of my work focuses on research aimed at understanding how to treat Veterans with cardiovascular disease, including the factors that affect the severity of disease and innovative programs to deliver cardiac rehabilitation.

Describe your areas of specialty and how you apply these skills on behalf of Veterans.

I am a primary care physician, implementation scientist and health services researcher. My primary focus is on conducting research that accelerates the implementation of evidence-based healthcare delivery into practice. I am board certified in Internal Medicine and in Clinical Informatics. I use these skills as a primary care physician and research investigator.

What was appealing about a career at VA?

I like conducting research in a learning-focused healthcare system where I can study the quality of healthcare provided, implement changes to improve healthcare delivery and evaluate how these changes improve patient outcomes.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Mentoring junior investigators.

How has VA helped you grow in your career?

VA has provided me with high-quality training and leadership development programs that have enabled me to grow as both a healthcare provider and academic researcher.

What are a few key benefits of working at VA?

Working with Veterans is a great privilege. For physician careers, VA is the only U.S. healthcare system in which one can conduct research, provide clinical care and mentor trainees, all under the same roof.

What do you find most surprising about working at VA?

Hiring, purchasing and contracting are incredibly challenging. We must be vigilant in navigating these systems to recruit the highest quality employees and purchase the most up-to-date tools needed to best serve Veterans.

What story do you most often tell people about your work?

I like to share humorous things that patients have said to me. One Veteran joked that he hung up my photo at home and genuflects every time he walks past it.

What would you tell other healthcare professionals who are interested in choosing a career at VA?

VA is changing dramatically, with an expanded emphasis on community-based care delivered through private partners. How to integrate information from all of these different healthcare systems will be an interesting challenge.

Choose VA today

Dr. Whooley is among the many VA physicians able to conduct research as they care for the nation’s Veterans. See if a career as a VA physician is right for you too.

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VA Careers