24 Uniformed Services University Female Leaders Build their Places in History

A graphic of a silhouette of a woman's head with medical equipment surrounding it.

By Sharon Holland and Sarah Marshall 

Women have played fundamental roles throughout our nation’s history. They have been present at every level of society, fighting behind the scenes and in the forefront for their country and their beliefs. 

Since the Uniformed Services University first opened its doors to students in 1976, more than 3,100 women have earned degrees from its medical, nursing, dental, allied health and graduate education programs. Although there are many to choose from, here are 24 USU women leaders whose significant contributions to our country and whose accomplishments have established a solid place for women in American society. 

Melissa Rosado de Christenson, MD, School of Medicine Class of 1980

Melissa Rosado de Christenson
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Dr. Melissa L. Rosado de Christenson is a star within the Radiology community. She is past-president of the American Roentgen Ray Society (ARRS), the Society of Thoracic Radiology, and the American Association for Women Radiologists (AAWR). She is a Fellow of the American College of Radiology, and in 2017, she became an inaugural Fellow of the AAWR. 

Rosado de Christenson is a graduate of the charter class of the USU School of Medicine. She completed her residency in diagnostic Radiology at the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, DC, and became a diplomate of the American Board of Radiology in 1984. She served as chief of Pulmonary and Mediastinal Radiology and chairman and registrar of Radiologic Pathology at the former Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. 

Rosado de Christenson retired from active duty in the U.S. Air Force medical corps as a colonel in 2001 after more than 25 years of service. She was a clinical professor of Radiology at the Ohio State University for four years. 

She is currently section chief of Thoracic Radiology and director of Lung Screening at Saint-Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City in Kansas City, Missouri. She is also a professor of Radiology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine and director of the medical student clerkship. 

Rosado de Christenson is the recipient of the AAWR’s 2004 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Award, the AAWR’s 2016 Alice Ettinger Award and the ARRS’s 2010 Best Educator Award. In 2018 she received the Gold Medal of the Society of Thoracic Radiology and the Gold Medal of the American Roentgen Ray Society.

Sandra Kweder, MD, School of Medicine Class of 1984

Sandra Kweder
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Retired U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Rear Admiral (Dr.) Sandra L. Kweder is the deputy director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Europe Office, based in Amsterdam. She oversees and facilitates scientific, regulatory and policy sharing and collaborations across the agencies at all levels. These often take place through 30 standing technical working groups covering topics from oncology and pediatrics to rare diseases and vaccines. She also connects experts and finds common ground for issues that arise outside of those groups and topic areas. 

Kweder earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Connecticut. She spent a year studying health policy and administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before pursuing her Doctor of Medicine degree at USU as a PHS officer. 

Following her medical school graduation in 1984, she completed an internal medicine residency program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and joined the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Division of Antiviral Drugs to address the growing field of HIV drug development. She later pursued an obstetric and consultative medicine fellowship at Brown University, then returned to the FDA, where she held a number of positions in pre- and post-market regulation. 

Kweder served as the deputy director for the Office of Drug Evaluation IV at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, where she actively led numerous initiatives including improvements in the drug review process; modernizing nonprescription drug review; building a systematic drug shortage prevention and management program; patient-focused drug development and clinical outcomes assessments; and the growth and development of pediatric and maternal health as standard aspects of drug development. 

In 2016, after retirement from the PHS, Kweder moved to London for her current position, when the European Medicines Agency was based there. She relocated to Amsterdam with the agency in 2019. 

Lori J. Heim, MD, School of Medicine Class of 1986

Lori Heim
Photo credit: Scottish Medical Center
Dr. Lori Heim is a board certified family physician in Laurinburg, North Carolina, where she serves as a hospitalist at Scotland Memorial Hospital -- the first-ever for the facility. As such, she manages the inpatient care of adult patients referred by primary care physicians in the community. She ensures continuity of care between hospitalized patients and their primary care physicians. 

Heim earned her undergraduate degree from Portland State University in Oregon, and was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force. She entered medical school at USU, and graduated in 1986 with her Doctor of Medicine degree. Following completion of her Family Medicine residency at Malcolm Grow U.S. Air Force Medical Center, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, Heim pursued a faculty development and research fellowship from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She later received the American Academy of Family Physicians’ (AAFP) degree of Fellow, an earned degree awarded to family physicians for distinguished service and continuing medical education.

As an Air Force physician, Heim served as a staff physician, clinic chief, residency director, chief of the medical staff and commander, among many other assignments. She had an overseas assignment at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, and was stationed in Florida, North Carolina, Washington, and in the Washington, DC, area. She served as an assistant professor of Family Medicine and director of the University Health Center at USU, and participated in humanitarian missions and volunteered in medical clinics in underserved communities. 

Heim served as a member of the board of directors of the Uniformed Services Academy of Family Physicians, later becoming vice president, and ultimately, president of the organization. A member of the AAFP since 1985, Heim also served as a delegate to the AAFP Congress of Delegates, the AAFP’s governing body, from 2000 to 2004. She served on the Commission on Health Care Services and on the Task Force of Linkages to Practice Improvement. In addition, she served three years as a director on the AAFP Board of Directors. 

In 2007, she retired from the Air Force after 25 years of service and moved to North Carolina, where she joined the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians and entered into private practice. 

In 2008, the AAFP Congress of Delegates elected Heim to serve as president-elect, and she became president of the 134,600-member professional medical society the following year, advocating on behalf of family physicians and patients nationwide. She also served on the board of managers of TransforMED LLC, a for-profit wholly-owned subsidiary of the AAFP focused on helping primary care medical practices adopt the patient-centered medical home model of care.

Constance Pechura, PhD, Graduate Education Class of 1987

Constance Pechura
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Dr. Constance Pechura spent her career in support of health policy and research. For more than a decade, she was a member of the senior staff at the Institute of Medicine-turned-National Academies of Science, including serving as director of its Board on Neuroscience and Behavioral Health. 

Pechura holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. She earned her PhD in Anatomy, with a specialization in Neuroscience, from USU in 1987.

Pechura taught health policy in the Stanford in Washington Program from 1993 to 1998, and anatomy and neuroscience courses at George Washington University Medical School and at USU. From 1998 to 2006, Pechura was Senior Program Officer at The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, including leading the Human Capital Portfolio. She went on to serve as the executive director of the Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia from 2006 to 2011. Also during that time, she was a Senior Advisor to the Bravewell Collaborative on Integrative Medicine and was program director for its practice-based research network. 

Outside of her professional pursuits, Pechura has been heavily involved in volunteer activities. She served as counselor, trainer and board member for the Richmond Hotline and Rape Crisis Outreach, and a board member and chair of Student Pugwash USA, which engages students to promote the socially responsible use of science and technology in the 21st century. Pechura also served as board member and chair of CASA of Philadelphia County, Pa., and an advisory council member of the Norlien Foundation/Alberta Family Wellness Initiative based in Alberta, Canada, that works to improve outcomes in health and wellbeing for children and families across Alberta. She was an advisory council member for 11Th Street Family Health Services in Philadelphia, a volunteer with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and a Board Member of the Jenkins Foundation in Richmond, Va., a health foundation that advocates for access to primary care, access to mental health services, and access to substance use prevention and treatment. 

Though she is now retired, she looks back on a career full of achievements.

Janet Yu-Yahiro, PhD, Graduate Education Class of 1987

Janet Yu-Yahiro
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Dr. Janet Yu-Yahiro was recruited by the first chairman of the Department of Orthopaedics at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, to provide research opportunities for orthopaedic residents. She was appointed director of Orthopaedic Research in 1996. During her 32-year tenure at MUMH, she developed a research training program for orthopaedic surgery residents and fellows specializing in sports medicine, foot and ankle, shoulder and elbow, hip and knee, and spine, and provided research training and experience to more than 200 residents and fellows. She also oversaw the design, funding, and launch of a surgical training facility and three research labs that provided research opportunities in biomechanics and biologics. Yu-Yahiro also founded the MUMH Orthopaedic Surgery Visiting Professor Lectureship and Laboratory and the Roger H. Michael Annual Research Award.

Yu-Yahiro received her Bachelor’s degree in biology from Wake Forest University and her Master’s degree in exercise science from the University of Maryland, College Park, then went on to complete her doctorate in medical physiology from USU in 1987. 

For more than 20 years, Yu-Yahiro has held an adjunct faculty position in the Division of Gerontology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health. Through this affiliation, she has participated in numerous NIH-funded studies in the fields of aging and traumatic hip fractures, and served as a Principal Investigator and Co-Principal Investigator. 

Yu-Yahiro has been a member of the Field Staff for the Accreditation Committee on Graduate Medical Education since January of 2020, and a member of the Orthopaedic Research Society, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American College of Sports Medicine, and the American Physiological Society.

Among her many achievements throughout her career, she earned the Resident Appreciation Award for Excellence in Teaching. 

Karen Goodrowe, PhD, Graduate Education Class of 1988

Dr. Karen Goodrowe arguably has one of the most unique jobs among USU graduates. Goodrowe serves as general curator of the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, where she is responsible for overseeing daily operations of the animal side of the zoo. She ensures the care and welfare of the facility’s animal collection, and is a senior responder at the zoo for emergencies. She also helps cultivate donors for the park, and serves as an official voice of the park for media interviews related to animal topics. Goodrowe is also an international expert on tigers and other large cats, and is vice chair of the Sumatran Tiger Survival Species Plan®. 

Karen Goodrowe
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Goodrowe earned her undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Alabama at Huntsville, followed by her Master of Science degree in Veterinary Reproductive Morphology/Physiology from the University of Illinois. In 1988, she earned her Ph.D. in Physiology, with a concentration in reproductive physiology, from USU. While at USU, she worked as a graduate Fellow at the National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, and as a guest animal care worker in the Veterinary Resources Branch at the National Institutes of Health. 

After graduating from USU, she worked for the Toronto Zoo as a reproductive physiologist, and assistant curator for mammals (more than 700 animals), where she managed and directed the reproductive physiology research program and served as chair of the Biology and Conservation Animal Welfare and Research Committee. While there, she continued to maintain her ties to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, as a research associate, and as a faculty member at the University of Guelph in Ontario, and York University in Toronto. 

For more than two decades, Goodrowe has continued to serve as an active member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and has been a renowned expert on Columbian white-tailed deer, polar bears, clouded leopard, tigers, small cats, spotted frogs, red wolves, Algonquin wolves, and other species throughout the course of her career. She has also participated many times on the AZA’s accreditation inspection teams, working groups, advisory groups and as the reproductive advisor on a variety of species’ survival plans, as well as a research advisor to the AZA. 

Vanita Ahuja, MD, School of Medicine Class of 1995

Dr. Vanita Ahuja emigrated with her family to the U.S. from India around the age of six and is now chief of General Surgery for the Connecticut Healthcare System-VA, an associate professor of Surgery at Yale University, and the Surgery Quality Liaison for the Yale Surgery Residency Program. 

Vanita Ahuja
Photo credit: Yale University School of Medicine
Ahuja earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland, and her medical degree from USU in 1995. She completed an internship at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va. and spent two years as a general medical officer at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, before entering an otolaryngology residency at then-National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. 

Ahuja later left Naval service and participated in a one-year research fellowship at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore before beginning a general surgery residency, which she completed in 2007 at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. While there, she earned a Master of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

She was then accepted into a one-year postdoctoral fellowship program in surgical oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California. 

Ahuja returned to the east coast in 2009 where she served in a variety of positions in the Academic Surgery department at York Hospital in York, Penn., including associate program director, director of surgical quality, and surgical specialty clinic director and transition to practice program fellowship director. She also led the Pennsylvania Consortium American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program. 

In 2016, she returned to Johns Hopkins for the Executive Master of Business Administration degree from the Carey School of Business, and spent the following three years as the surgery residency program director and the surgical quality liaison at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, before moving to Connecticut for her current position. She also serves as a consultant for the American Board of Surgery. 

Patricia Deuster, PhD, MPH, Graduate Education Class of 1995

Patricia Deuster
Photo credit: Thomas Balfour, Uniformed Services University
Dr. Patricia Deuster is an international leader in health, nutrition and human performance. For more than 35 years, she has conducted research in sports and warrior nutrition and performance, and today she is the director of USU’s Consortium for Health and Military Performance and is a professor in the university’s Department of Military and Emergency Medicine. 

Deuster earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1971, and her Master of Arts degree in Physical Ed/Education in 1978, both from the College of William and Mary. She then earned her PhD in Nutrition Science and Biochemistry in 1982 from the University of Maryland, and her Master of Public Health in Epidemiology at USU in 1995.

She wrote the first U.S. Navy SEAL Nutrition Guide sponsored by U.S. Special Operations Command and was commissioned in 2006 to update the nutrition guide for the United States Special Operations Command. She has authored more than 280 peer-reviewed papers and numerous book chapters and books relating to human performance with a focus on health, nutrition, dietary supplements, and total force fitness. 

Deuster also chairs the DoD Dietary Supplement Subcommittee, is a member of the DoD Food and Nutrition Subcommittee, and serves on the VA/DoD Health Executive Committee Women’s Health Work Group, and the DoD Nutrition Committee. She is a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, and a Certified Nutrition Specialist. 

Rochelle Nolte, MD, School of Medicine Class of 1996

PHS Captain (Dr.) Rochelle Nolte has seen it all over the course of her career. Her missions included serving as an emergency responder in two hurricanes, the World Trade Center attacks, the Brentwood Post Office attacks involving airborne anthrax, the Pentagon, the Salt Lake City Olympics, presidential inaugurations and events, and the Kosovar refugee crisis. And that’s not even the half of it. 

Rochelle Nolte
Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard
Nolte attended Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental science. While there, she was active in ROTC and was named the ROTC Cadet of the Year for two consecutive years. After graduation, Nolte attended USU, earning her M.D. degree in 1996. She completed her Family Medicine residency at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, in Virginia, followed by a fellowship in geriatric medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview and a Sports Medicine Fellowship at Fort Belvoir. 

She transferred from the Army to the PHS after graduation, and worked as a member of a disaster medical assistance team, a group of professional medical personnel that provide rapid-response medical care or casualty decontamination during a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other national or international emergencies. Nolte served in a variety of roles in support of the U.S. Coast Guard for more than 13 years, where she progressed from staff medical officer to senior medical officer of a clinic to senior medical executive of a large regional practice. Her management of another large regional practice included overseeing the care of all Coast Guard personnel in Europe and U.S. Central Command. As the first fellowship-trained Sports Medicine doctor for the Coast Guard, she established the first multi-disciplinary clinic and athletic training room at the Coast Guard Recruit Training Center. She was a charter member of the Coast Guard Physical Training Board. Nolte was a recipient of the USCG San Diego Outstanding Aircrew of the Year award and was named the PHS Clinical Physician of the Year in 2010. In 2018, she was named Military Health System Female Physician of the Year for the PHS. 

Nolte was later assigned at the Bureau of Prisons in San Diego, Calif., where she plays a critical role in caring for patients with complex medical and psychiatric problems, and improving care in the BOP by bringing bedside ultrasound to this setting to prevent unnecessary delays in treatment or trips out of the facility for imaging. Nolte also introduced the use of battlefield acupuncture techniques for pain control to decrease the use of narcotic medications among the prison population. 

She continues to see patients at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Sports Medicine Clinic in San Diego several days each month while teaching students, interns, residents, and junior physicians. Nolte served on the Uniformed Services Academy of Family Physicians Board of Directors for three years and as special constituency representative to the American Academy of Family Physicians, and on the American Board of Family Medicine Anghoff Committee.

Outside of her official duties, Nolte was a member of USU’s Lady Docs rugby team and was a linebacker for the D.C. Divas women’s football team in 2001 and 2002. She switched from player to serving as a full-time member of the team’s medical staff – the first former Divas player to do so – and spent nine years on the medical staff, the second-longest tenure of any team doctor.

LaKeisha Henry, MD, School of Medicine Class of 1998 

LaKeisha Henry
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
Air Force Colonel (Dr.) LaKeisha Henry is the division chief at the Hearing Center of Excellence, a DoD-VA collaboration nested within the Defense Health Agency, located in the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgery Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. The former Otolaryngology (ENT) consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General, Henry is responsible for helping facilitate auditory and vestibular research and developing best practices that enhance the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of patients with associated disorders.

Henry graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, then commissioned into the Air Force upon entering medical school at USU. Two years after graduating, she became a flight surgeon and trained in aerospace medicine, before completing her ENT residency at the San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium. 

Henry was a Master Clinician in Otolaryngology at the 59th Medical Group at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, and has held a number of leadership positions throughout her career in addition to her clinical assignments, both in the United States and overseas, including squadron commander at the Mike O’Callaghan Federal Medical Center in Las Vegas. 

Henry deployed to Afghanistan as the sole ENT surgeon in theater at the time, caring for American, NATO and coalition forces, as well as injured Afghan army and civilian patients. She also holds an appointment at USU as an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery and an Advanced Trauma Life Support instructor. 

Henry is the chair of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Trauma Committee.

Heather Johnson, DNP, Graduate School of Nursing Class of 1999

Heather Johnson
Photo credit: Thomas Balfour, Uniformed
Services University
Dr. Heather Johnson is a family nurse practitioner who has dedicated her career to helping veterans and families navigate the complex healthcare and education systems. She is currently the director and chair of the Family and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner programs in USU’s Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing, and also maintains an active clinical practice at the USU David E. Cabrera University Health Center. 

Johnson earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1991 from the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio, and then her Master of Science in Nursing at USU in 1999. She went on to earn her Doctor of Nursing Practice in 2012 at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. She spent more than 22 years on active duty in the Air Force Nurse Corps, with assignments throughout the world, including Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Johnson served as a family nurse practitioner and chief of the Decontamination team at Ramstein, arriving just days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America. She retired in 2013 as a colonel and returned to USU to join the GSN faculty, where she teaches the next generation of military nurse practitioners.  

In 2012, Johnson was inducted as a Fellow into the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. She is an invited speaker and author on topics surrounding access and interdisciplinary care for veterans, military families and exceptional children. She is also a member of the Parenting Collaborative for the National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) and has been a guest speaker for the NASEM Collaborative on Cognitive and Behavioral Health of Children. 

Virginia Garner, DNP, Graduate School of Nursing Class of 2000

Virginia Garner
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
Air Force Colonel Virginia Garner is the Command Surgeon of the Headquarters, Air Force Global Strike Command, located at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, where she provides Combatant Commanders with medical programs to create and sustain reliable combat ready forces to conduct nuclear deterrence and global strike operations. Garner also directs strategy, policy, training, manpower, and resources for eight military treatment facilities in nine Air Force Wings with 2,530 medical staff, overseeing care for 171,000 Military Health System beneficiaries.

Garner graduated with distinction and a Bachelor of Nursing Science from the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Miami. She held several Air Force nursing positions, such as clinical nurse in Emergency Services and assistant nurse manager of Intensive Care, before earning her Master of Science in Nursing at USU as a nurse practitioner in 2000. 

Garner went on to become primary care manager at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma before becoming an Element Chief, Flight Commander, and nurse practitioner, at the Deployed Warrior Medical Management Center in Landstuhl, Germany. She later became commander of 375th Medical Operations Squadron at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois before deploying to Southwest Asia as commander of the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group. Upon her return, she commanded the 15th Medical Group at Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and served as director of Air Force Nursing Operations in San Antonio, Texas. Prior to her current assignment, she served as Commander of the 99th Medical Group at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. 

Garner was recognized as the Air Force Advanced Practice Nurse of the Year in 2002 and Air Force Space Command Advanced Practice Nurse of the Year in 2004.

Cynthia Kuehner, DNP, Graduate School of Nursing Class of 2001

Cynthia Kuehner
Photo credit: U.S. Navy
Navy Rear Admiral Cynthia Kuehner was the first naval officer to attend USU’s Family Nurse Practitioner program and the first Navy Nurse Corps officer in Naval Medical Center San Diego’s more than one hundred-year history to serve as executive officer. 

Kuehner embarked upon her 29-year Navy career after graduating from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a Bachelor of Science degree, and completing officer training school. After being stationed at Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California, where she served as a staff nurse on the pediatric ward, she was stationed in Sasebo, Japan as an ambulatory care nurse. She later earned her Master of Science degree in Nursing at USU in 2001 and her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Kuehner’s subsequent leadership tours of duty included Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where she served as department head of Family Medicine, Portsmouth, Virginia, as the director of Primary Care and Branch Health Clinics, Naval Medical Center San Diego as executive officer, and U.S. Naval Hospital in Okinawa, Japan, as Commanding Officer, where she directly supported forward deployed Navy and Marine forces and theater operational plans within Indo-Pacific Command. 

She was deployed twice: Kuehner served as the senior nurse of Bravo Surgical Company, with the 1st Force Service Support Group, in Fallujah, Iraq, providing direct casualty care during the height of combat operations at the busiest role II medical facility, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Vigilant Resolve (the first battle of Fallujah). She also served as the senior medical officer, and ultimately as the executive officer, of the Provincial Reconstruction Team, Khost, Afghanistan. As the team’s provincial partner for health sector development, in a war-torn province of more than one million Afghans, she worked with Afghan government officials, U.S. departments, and non-government organizations to bolster reconstruction efforts essential to the counterinsurgency strategy, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. 

She subsequently reported to Washington D.C. to serve as the Commander’s Action Group lead at Defense Health Headquarters before assuming the position of assistant deputy chief of Operations for the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Plans and Readiness, and later, deputy chief. Now, Kuehner is commander of the Naval Medical Forces Support Command in San Antonio, Texas, and director of the Navy Nurse Corps. 

She is a Fellow of both the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and the American Academy of Nursing.

Susan Orsega, MSN, Graduate School of Nursing Class of 2001

Susan Orsega
Photo credit: U.S. Public Health Service
PHS Rear Admiral Susan Orsega is currently our nation’s top healthcare advisor as the acting Surgeon General of the U.S. 

Orsega earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Towson University and a Master of Science in Nursing degree from USU’s Graduate School of Nursing in 2001. She began her career in the PHS Commissioned Corps in 1989 at the National Institutes of Health, in the midst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

Orsega has extensive experience in management of public health emergencies and infectious diseases, including Ebola, HIV/AIDS and other emerging infections. In 2015, she was appointed to the NIH/NIAID Ebola trial operations team, responsible for ensuring that the first Ebola human vaccine and treatment trials in Liberia and Sierra Leone were successfully implemented at a time when the Ebola transmission rates were catastrophic. Recently, she led Commissioned Corps personnel in a historic deployment of officers in support of COVID-19. 

She continued to advance her nursing and scientific knowledge with an emphasis on practice as a Nurse Practitioner, and became recognized as a subject matter expert in HIV/AIDS global research, advanced nursing practice, health diplomacy and disaster response.

The first GSN alumnus to reach the rank of rear admiral, Orsega was principal advisor to former Surgeon General Vice Adm. Jerome Adams on issues pertaining to Commissioned Corps training, deployment and total force fitness. As the former Chief Nurse Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service, she advised Adams and former Surgeon General Vice Adm. Vivek Murthy, and former acting Surgeon General Rear. Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams, on recruitment, deployment and career development for nursing, while leading more than 4,500 uniformed PHS and Health and Human Services department nurses. 

Among her many achievements, Orsega has earned the NIH Director’s award in 2002 and was named the distinguished Uniformed Services University Graduate of School of Nursing Alumni of the Year in 2015. In 2016, she received the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.

Nicole Vaughn, PhD, Graduate Education Classes of 2001, 2004

Nicole Vaughn
Photo credit: Rowan University
Dr. Nicole Vaughn is a leader, mentor and inspiration to her students at Rowan University, and a tremendous asset and contributor to her community. She is passionate about addressing food insecurities, housing, public transportation and other factors that impact a person’s health. 

Vaughn earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Morgan State University in Baltimore. She earned a Master of Science degree and a PhD in Medical Psychology at USU in 2001 and 2004, respectively. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in cardiovascular behavioral medicine and health disparities at USU, before moving to Philadelphia, where she worked as a senior research and policy analyst at Drexel University’s Center for Health Equality. 

In 2009, Vaughn served as a faculty member in the Center for Health Equity and Department of Health Management and Policy at Drexel, and as the co-Principal Investigator for Centerpiece Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She was an assistant professor at Drexel, prior to moving to her current position as an assistant professor in the Health and Wellness program in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Rowan University in Philadelphia. 

Vaughn’s research interests include using community-based participatory research methods to address chronic disease prevention (diabetes, overweight, obesity) as well as trauma-informed programs that enhance resilience in underserved and urban settings with ethnic minority adults and youth. Among her research endeavors, Vaughn works with community partners to implement evidence-based and evidence informed strategies in their local settings (i.e., churches, after school settings, community centers) to promote healthy lifestyles. 

Vaughn spends countless hours mentoring students and including them in her research efforts as a way to help prepare them for successful educational pursuits, careers in public health, and to take their knowledge to help their own families and community in the future. She received a grant under the national Build Health Challenge to fund the Roots to Prevention initiative in nearby Camden, New Jersey, to connect food-growing organizations throughout Camden by selling produce directly to Virtua Health’s Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program. The effort provides patients better access to healthy, affordable foods while also creating new income opportunities for surrounding neighborhoods and expands nutrition, cooking and gardening programs citywide to increase participation in the local food economy by both residents and prescription redeemers.

Vaughn is one of four finalists for the Philadelphia area who were nominated for a spot in the nationwide Nexstar Woman of the Year contest. She was selected for the recognition based on her contributions in the workplace, the community, and in the lives of others. 

Vaughn was a National Cancer Institute’s Mentored Training for Dissemination and Implementation Research in Cancer (MT-DIRC) fellow from 2016-2018. She is a member of the Society of Behavioral Medicine and the American Public Health Association.

Arlene Hudson, MD, School of Medicine Class of 2003

Arlene Hudson
Photo credit: U.S. Navy
Commander (Dr.) Arlene Hudson had a well-established career in the Navy before changing career paths to become a physician. The Medical Service Corps-turned Medical Corps officer served as a Naval Environmental Health officer, Preventive Medicine department head at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and as an epidemiologist in the Office of the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses. 

Hudson received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Boston University while attending on a full athletic scholarship. After completing her master’s degree in 1993, she worked at the Department of Public Health in Augusta, Maine. In 1994, she received a direct commission with the Navy and entered active duty in the Medical Service Corps. Following a number of assignments over the next five years, Hudson left the Navy and worked as a consultant for the RAND Corporation in Washington, D.C. While at RAND, she authored multiple publications for the Science and Technology Policy Institute and the National Defense Research Institute. 

But Hudson returned to the military and entered medical school at USU in 1999, graduating in 2003. She completed her residency in anesthesiology in 2006 at the National Capital Consortium in Bethesda, and finished subspecialty training in cardiothoracic anesthesia at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. She earned board certification in Advanced Perioperative Transesophageal Echocardiography in 2007.

After her postgraduate training, Hudson deployed in support of the Global War of Terror to Djibouti, Africa, from 2007 to 2008. She then returned to the former National Naval Medical Center, now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where she chaired the Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee for six years and served on the Executive Committee of the Medical Staff. She was also core faculty for the National Capital Consortium residency in Anesthesiology.

In 2012, Hudson was assigned to USU’s Department of Anesthesiology, serving as a principal investigator and associate investigator for multiple clinical research projects. She also led the department’s Maintenance of Certification in Anesthesia (MOCA) program, which provides required training for military anesthesiologists around the globe. Among many other achievements throughout her career, she was awarded the USU Impact Award in 2017 for her work advancing simulation education. 

Today, as an associate professor at USU, Hudson is the university’s fourth chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, where she oversees more than 30 faculty members, medical student education programs, anesthesia research programs, and the Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Medicine. 

Regan Lyon, MD, School of Medicine Class of 2010

Air Force Major (Dr.) Regan Lyon has distinguished herself in operational medicine as a member of a Special Operations Surgical Team in the 720th Operations Support Squadron, highly trained medical professionals who are able to fully function in austere and complex environments and who provide advanced combat casualty care within minutes of a sustained injury.

Photo credit: Senior Airman Kristin High, 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Lyon earned her undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University in 2002. As a medical student at USU, she took advantage of the flight medicine training offered. She followed medical school with a residency in emergency medicine. Her first assignment was with the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Field in North Carolina. There, she volunteered to fill a spot as the flight surgeon and medical director for pararescuemen in the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron. While there, she worked with a Special Operations Surgical Team and changed her career course. She ultimately was assigned to the 720th Operations Support Squadron at Hurlburt Field in Florida. She deployed as a member of an SOST within a year, caring for troops on the frontline. During one deployment, Lyon participated in 31 mass casualty events and 53 emergent walking blood drives, and assisted with a variety of life-saving surgical procedures. She was featured, along with several of her SOST team members, by CBS News in 2018 for their heroic efforts. 

Lyon is a member of the Special Operations Medical Association (SOMA), and was recently elected to serve as an SOMA board member. This role has given her a platform that reaches military and civilian counterparts throughout the U.S. and the world. 

Julie Pavlin, PhD, Graduate Education Class of 2007

Dr. Julie Pavlin is the director of the Board on Global Health in the Health and Medicine Division of the prestigious National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, where she coordinates analyses of health developments beyond America’s borders, and areas of international health investment that promote global well-being, security, and economic development. She is an expert in preventive medicine, public health, and virology.

Julie Pavlin
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Pavlin double majored in History and Biology (neurology and behavior) at Cornell University in 1986, then earned her medical degree from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in 1990. She earned a Master of Public Health degree in International Health from Harvard School of Public Health in 1993 before earning her PhD in Emerging Infectious Diseases at USU in 2007. She served nearly 25 years in the Army, retiring as a colonel. 

As a public health physician, Pavlin has served as a mentor in applied epidemiology both in the field and in a classroom setting. She has published her public health research extensively, and has served in variety leadership roles throughout her career. 

While in the Army, Pavlin was the assistant chief of Operational Medicine at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases from 1995 until 1998. As such, she developed new training methods, including satellite broadcasts, to train medical personnel to recognize, prevent, and treat disease agents that could be used in biological terrorism or warfare.

Pavlin then became chief of the Department of Field Studies at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research until 2005. After receiving her PhD from USU, she moved to Bangkok, Thailand, where she was chief of Global Emerging Infections at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences and worked with the DoD’s Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System. 

She returned to USU in 2010 to serve as the director of the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics. After retiring from the Army, Pavlin was the deputy director of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center from 2011 to 2015, before becoming the research area director for emerging infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance and deputy research area director for HIV at USU’s Infectious Disease Clinical Research. 

Christina S. Faherty, PhD, Graduate Education Class of 2009

Christina S. Faherty
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Dr. Christina S. Faherty is a Molecular Biologist in Pediatrics at the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Harvard Medical School. Faherty is a well-established researcher in bacterial pathogenesis with a focus on enteric pathogens, vaccine development, and host-pathogen interactions.

Faherty earned her PhD in Emerging Infectious Diseases from USU in 2009. Since then, she has been particularly interested in understanding Shigella, a pathogen that causes a significant global health burden each year by causing millions of infections predominantly in children under age five in developing countries. By researching pathogenesis from the perspective of the bacteria, in which they ultimately survive and spread, Faherty’s goal is to develop better treatments and fight these infectious diseases. In 2017, Faherty and a team of scientists discovered how Shigella survives bile salts in the gastrointestinal tract, and in 2019, discovered Shigella adherence factors required for attachment to host cells. These discoveries could eventually lead to new therapeutic targets or new methods for vaccine development for Shigella.

Faherty’s work has been funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She has published extensively in scientific journals, including the cover article of the American Society of Microbiology’s mSphere, with much of it featured in mainstream media outlets. 

While Faherty’s area of expertise is centered on investigation, she has contributed significantly to teaching, mentoring and advising students, residents, and fellows in the classroom and laboratory settings. In teaching, she encourages students to “think like a scientist.” Faherty says by showing students how to apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom to the problem-solving skills required for research, students learn various techniques and develop the skills necessary to successfully complete a thesis and to continue a career in research. 

Faherty is an active ad hoc reviewer for a number of funding agencies and journals, including PLoS One; PloS Pathogens, Infection and Immunity; Gut Microbes; Genes; Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, Frontiers in Microbiology, Journal of Visualized Experiments; Journal of Medical Microbiology; AJP Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology; Tropical Disease, Travel Medicine and Vaccines; Microbial Drug Resistance, Pathogens and Disease, Scientific Reports, and mSphere. She is a review editor for Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, and an editorial board member for Infection and Immunity. 

She has been an active member of the American Society for Microbiology since 2006.

Sara Jager, MD, School of Medicine Class of 2010

PHS Commander (Dr.) Sara Jager is leading coronavirus efforts and medical care at the Navajo hospital in Tuba City, Arizona as its Chief Medical Officer. Jager leads a medical staff of about 120, including several other USU alumni. 

Sara Jager
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Jager is a former Army military police officer and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where she majored in medical geography and environmental engineering. Following her graduation, she was assigned to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii and Fort Lewis in Washington. She deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was awarded a bronze star for her role in training Iraqi police in Baghdad.  Looking for a career change, she took the Medical College Admissions Test while in Iraq and applied to be a PHS officer to try and help people in the U.S. get quality medical care. 

She graduated from USU in 2010, and since finishing her pediatrics residency at the University of Utah in 2013, Jager has been serving at the Tuba City Regional Health Corporation near economically distressed Indian reservations in northern Arizona, and hours from the nearest major city and higher level of care. Jager is a pediatrician, Chief Medical Officer and chief of Pediatrics. She was named the interim CMO when COVID hit the Navajo community hard in March 2020, and has been actively involved in the fight against COVID ever since. 

Jager is a long-course, IronMan distance triathlete who was invited to the 70.3 World Championships in New Zealand in 2020, but it was cancelled because of COVID-19. She has approached the race against coronavirus as she does in competition: work as hard and as fast as she can to do as much good as she can in a short amount of time.

Peggy L. Dickson, DDS, Postgraduate Dental College Class of 2012

Air Force Colonel Peggy L. Dickson is the Commander of the 10th Dental Squadron at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado, where she is responsible for dental services for the cadet population and USAFA staff and faculty. Additionally, she oversees the Advanced Education in General Dentistry-1 (AEGD-1) Residency Program located at the USAFA. 

Dickson graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry with a Doctor of Dental Surgery Degree in 1998. She then joined her husband, who is also a dentist, in opening a dental clinic in their hometown of Tulsa, OK. In 2006, after eight years of private practice experience, she and her husband, Colonel William Dickson, both received a direct commission into the Air Force Dental Corps. She then served four years as a clinical dentist at the USAFA, during which time she was deployed as a general dentist to the 447th Expeditionary Medical Group at Sather Air Base, Baghdad, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

Peggy L. Dickson
Photo by U.S. Air Force

In 2010, she began a Comprehensive Dentistry residency (AEGD-2) at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. While there, she earned her Master of Science in Oral Biology degree from USU. Two years later, she served as the Clinical Dentistry Flight Commander for the 82nd Dental Squadron at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. She attained board certification with the American Board of General Dentistry, and excelled as a member of the faculty at Sheppard, teaching comprehensive prosthodontics to dental residents in the AEGD-1 program. She later served as the Dental Support Flight Commander and Dental Lab Flight Commander. 

Dickson was assigned to the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General, where she served as the associate director of the Dental Corps and deputy chief of the Senior Leader Management division. In this position, she assisted the Air Force Dental Corps director with oversight of more than 900 dental officers at 76 dental treatment facilities worldwide. She also supported the chief of the Senior Leader Management division in managing the careers of the Air Force Medical Service colonels. 

Dickson attended Air War College in-residence at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, where she was presented the Wright Brothers Officership Award. Afterwards, she served as the Commander, 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, providing dental care for more than 8,500 Air Force commandos. 

Stephanie Helmus, DDS, Postgraduate Dental College Class of 2017    

Army Major Stephanie L. Helmus serves as the Chief of Dental Services for the 30th Medical Brigade, the Army’s only forward-stationed Medical Brigade headquarters in Europe with two major units, the 212th Combat Support Hospital and the 421st Multifunctional Medical Battalion providing clinical operations support in the European Command, Central Command, and Africa Command theater of operations. 

Helmus earned her Bachelors of Art degree in Biology in 2008 from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, graduating with Presidential Honors. She went on to earn her Doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry in 2013, again graduating with honors. She then completed a two-year residency in Comprehensive Dentistry from 2014 to 2016 at the Na Koa Dental Clinic at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. She earned a Master of Science in Oral Biology from USU and became board certified in General Dentistry in 2017. 

Stephanie Helmus
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kris Bonet

Following graduation from USU, Helmus served as a comprehensive general dentist at the Hohenfels Dental Clinic in Germany, and then deployed to Iraq where she was the dental Officer-in-Charge at the 47th Combat Support Hospital in Iraq until 2018. She returned to Hohenfels, where she took over as the Officer-in-Charge, managing the dental care and readiness for more than 1,300 active duty military, as well as dental treatment for eligible beneficiaries, retirees, and regionally allocated forces, before being assigned to current position with the 30th Medical Brigade.

Helmus serves as a member of various professional organizations, including the American Dental Association, the Michigan Dental Association, and the Omicron Kappa Upsilon Honor Dental Society. Among her many achievements, Helmus has earned the American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology Dental Student Award, the Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity Excellence in Academic Achievement, and the Anna C. Ettinger Biomedical Sciences Award.

Sarah Duffy, DMD, Postgraduate Dental College Class of 2018

Navy Lieutenant Commander-select Sarah Duffy serves as the Division Officer for the clinic at the Naval Medical Readiness Training Unit in Bangor, Washington. Prior to this assignment, she served as the Dental Division Officer aboard the USS John C. Stennis, a nuclear-powered supercarrier. As such, she was responsible for dental care for more than 1,200 sailors and embarked carrier air wing staff. 

Duffy earned her undergraduate degree from the United States Naval Academy in 2011, then attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine through the Health Professions Scholarship Program, graduating with a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree in 2015. 

Sarah Duffy
Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jarrod A. Schad

Upon entering active duty, Duffy’s first assignment was at Naval Branch Health Clinic, Groton, Connecticut, as a staff general dentist. She was then selected for residency training and spent two years at the Naval Postgraduate Dental School in Bethesda, Maryland, where she completed a Comprehensive Dentistry residency in 2018 and earned her Master of Science in Oral Biology degree from USU. 

She then transferred to the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, for two years before assuming her leadership role as division officer. In 2019, Duffy completed a seven-month around-the-world deployment aboard Stennis, which took her to the Pacific, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. While in the Mediterranean, Duffy and the Stennis crewmembers conducted an exercise with warships from the United Kingdom, France and Spain. They also took part in the Cobra Gold exercise in Thailand and operated off the coast of Vietnam during the U.S. presidential summit with the North Korea leader in Hanoi in February 2019. 

Duffy is a member of the American Dental Association and the Academy of General Dentistry. 

Erin Speier, DMD, Postgraduate Dental College 

Erin Speier
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Air Force Lt. Col. Erin Speier is the Flight Commander for the 59th Dental Training Squadron’s Orthodontic Flight and the program chairperson for the Tri-Service Orthodontic Residency Program. As the Flight Commander, she leads the only joint Air Force, Army and Navy dental specialty program in the Department of Defense and commands a 35-member team of active duty, GS and contract personnel. As the program chair and assistant professor for the USU Postgraduate Dental College, Speier provides clinical and didactic instruction for 10 orthodontic residents, develops curriculum and ensures compliance with the Commission on Dental Accreditation. 

Speier earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Colorado State University, and joined the Air Force through the Health Professions Scholarship Program while attending the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. She was commissioned in 2004. She completed a one-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD-1) program at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, DC, and then served as a general dentist at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Following that assignment, Speier entered the Tri-Service Orthodontic Residency Program and graduated with a certificate in orthodontics in 2010. 

Since then, Speier has served in clinical, education and leadership roles as an orthodontist at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, chief of Orthodontics, AEGD-1 instructor, Clinical Dentistry flight commander, and deputy squadron commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, director of Clinical Operations for the Tri-Service Residency Program and deputy Dental Group commander at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas. 

Speier is a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics and a member of the American Association of Orthodontists.