From dietetic intern to medical center director of the Kansas City VA Medical Center, Kathleen Fogarty has seen — and experienced — quite a bit in her 36 years with VA. This includes one stormy night at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, when she and another employee delivered a baby during Tropical Storm Allison.
Fogarty has made an impact in other ways during her time at VA — in fact, she made history as the first female director of two VA facilities.
On the eve of her retirement, and in this installment of our #ChooseVALeadership Careers blog series, she looks back at the women mentors who inspired her path to leadership at VA and the most rewarding part of her job: serving Veterans.
What was appealing about a career at VA?
I began my career as a dietetic intern and have been working for the past 36 years to serve Veterans. My father was a World War II Marine Corps Veteran, and it was his desire that I apply for a VA internship — the rest is history.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is hearing about the great care we provide. I participate in the Red Coat Ambassador Program and assist Veterans, visitors and staff at our front door. This experience is incredibly rewarding. I wish I was able to do it all day.
I also meet with Veterans and staff every month in an open-door meeting to hear how we can improve their experience and work environment.
How has VA helped you grow in your career?
I was a graduate of many leadership development programs at VA and, for the past 20 years, have been faculty, coach and co-chair of the Healthcare Leadership Development Advisory Board. I’m also a graduate of the Senior Executive Service Career Development Program and have participated in numerous coaching groups and in the mentorship of future leaders.
In what ways does VA encourage female leadership?
I believe VA encourages both men and women to serve in leadership roles. I never thought I was unable to do something because I was a female. Understanding that, I also recognize how strong female role models in leadership positions inspired me in my profession and my education.
What has been your personal path to leadership?
I was a teen volunteer at a hospital in Denver where I was assigned to relieve the CEO’s secretary for meetings and lunch breaks. That volunteer opportunity taught me what a CEO does very early on. This was a Catholic hospital and the CEO was a very strong woman. She was the role model that made me think it was possible to follow in her footsteps and succeed.
As the first female director of two VA facilities, I hope I have modeled that behavior and strength.
What advice would you give other women looking to pursue a leadership role in their careers or at VA?
Never define your actions as being a female, but rather, make decisions based on the facts and experience you bring to the table.
What would you tell other healthcare professionals who are interested in choosing a career at VA?
Join us early and stay forever. VA has the best mission and the rewards are so fulfilling.
What else would you like us to know about your work?
Ending a career with VA leaves you feeling accomplished and so thankful for those we serve.