Lessons Learned in Succeeding as a Female Military Leader

by Bri Teneza, Colonel, Medical Corps, U.S. Army, EMBA 2019

Serving our nation is an honor and a privilege. As a physician and officer in the U.S. Army for over 20 years, my career has afforded me opportunities and experiences that I could never have imagined.

I was commissioned in the U.S. Army in 1993 and received my medical degree from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) in Bethesda, MD in 1997. After completing my pediatric internship and residency at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, HI, I provided comprehensive healthcare to thousands of infants, children, and adolescents of military families in Fort Hood, TX and Fort Belvoir, VA.

As my military career advanced, I accepted and embraced jobs with increasing levels of responsibility. I served in various leadership capacities at military hospitals, such as inpatient pediatric chief, pediatric clinic chief, and pediatric service chief. In my spare time, I taught pediatric and family medicine residents at these military teaching facilities.

The year 2006 was a challenge for my family and me. This was the year that I deployed and served as supervisory medical officer for detainee healthcare at the largest detention camp in Iraq. This was the first time I acknowledged my own mortality, starting with estate planning with my husband before I departed and throughout the deployment. In addition, I emotionally matured and mentally toughened throughout the year. Most importantly, this journey reinforced in me the importance of a strong family support and the value of teamwork. It also reaffirmed what I have come to know — the selfless service and dedication that our Service members give to their teammates, to their missions, and to our nation.

My clinical and military experience from these diverse assignments laid the groundwork for other leadership positions. I joined the USU in January 2014 as commandant of the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine, where I served as the senior military officer-in-charge of all assigned students to the School of Medicine. In 2016, I moved to North Chicago, IL to serve as director and command surgeon for the Medical Plans and Policy Directorate at the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command, where my team was charged with developing medical plans and policies for volunteers who are enlisting to serve in the U.S. military.

From my personal journey, these are a few lessons that I have learned:

  1. Don’t be afraid to take risks.  In the military, there were specific job opportunities that took me out of my comfort zone as a junior clinician. Yet I knew that these jobs would broaden my experience and help advance my career from middle to upper management.  I embraced the challenge and sought out these assignments. In the process, I experienced tremendous personal growth.
  2. Always develop and grow. As I took on leadership positions, I soon realized that I had gaps in my knowledge base: areas that were not taught in medical school such as human resources, finance, budget, contracts, etc. How did I manage? Lots of on the job training and self-directed learning. I read voraciously, sought help from experts, and completed a master’s degree in public health and the Kellogg Executive MBA program.

I realize that any success I have achieved is only possible because I have taken risks and because I have become a lifelong learner. I hope to continue these practices for the rest of my military career and beyond. My advice to prospective Kellogg students is to identify the gaps in your own knowledge base, take yourself outside of your own comfort zone, and embrace the challenge of new learning.

Photo: Bri Teneza (right) with sister Nimfa Teneza-Mora, who is also a physician and officer in the U.S. Navy

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