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News | April 1, 2024

Walter Reed physician earns the 2023 Award for the Advancement of Women Physicians in Military Medicine

By Bernard Little, WRNMMC, Office of Command Communications

“The seed was initially planted by my remarkable mother as I saw her work to earn her nursing degree. Between witnessing firsthand her dedication and getting the opportunity to look through her textbook, I was fascinated by the field,” shared U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Ayeetin Azah in explaining what inspired her to become a physician.

“By high school, I was certain that I wanted to be a doctor. The path wasn’t always easy, but with the support of my parents, mentors and friends, I’m living out my childhood dreams,” Azah added.

The Navy Chief of Internal Medicine Residents for the National Capital Consortium (NCC) at Walter Reed, Azah recently earned the 2023 Award for the Advancement of Women Physicians in Military Medicine. She received the award during the annual Military Health System Excellence Awards ceremony, which recognizes leaders from across the MHS, during the 2024 annual meeting of the Association of the Military Surgeons of the United States (AMSUS), the Society of Federal Health Professionals. The meeting was held at National Harbor, Maryland on Feb. 15.

The Award for the Advancement of Women Physicians in Military Medicine recognizes one junior physician (O3-O4) and one senior physician (O5-O6) from each service branch “who have made significant contributions to the advocacy of female physicians whose behavior, example, or success can be emulated by others, especially younger female physicians.”

Azah’s program director, Army Maj. (Dr.) Joseph M. Maciuba, nominated her for the award.

“I nominated [her] because she is committed to the mentorship and development of others. Her sphere of influence not only includes the residency program, but it extends across the hospital and across the Navy,” stated Maciuba, program director for the NCC’s Internal Medicine Residency Program at Walter Reed and assistant professor of medicine at the Uniformed Services University (USU).

“[She’s] a caring leader who is devoted to serving those she leads. She advocates for those around her. She looks to make the system better for everyone, and she is willing to speak up when something isn’t right,” Maciuba added.

Azah serves as “the go-to person” for the 75 interns and residents in the NCC Internal Medicine program. The NCC is the largest joint training program for military health care providers. In addition to Walter Reed, the NCC includes the USU, Malcolm Grow Medical Clinics and Surgery Center at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and the Alexander T. Augusta Military Medical Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Azah calls the interns and residents in the NCC Internal Medicine program “outstanding,” explaining, “I advocate for their well-being, ensuring their voices are heard and addressing any concerns that may arise.”

“On the educational side, I work with my colleagues to not only develop the academic curriculum to include teaching conferences and simulations, but also to ensure a positive learning climate. I also get to work with the residents in a more clinical setting since I often staff resident clinic and oversee patient care as an attending on the wards.”

She shared that one of her favorite aspects of the job is mentoring. “I serve as a mentor and sponsor, leveraging my experiences and connections to provide opportunities for professional and personal development. Ultimately, I’m a champion for the interns and residents, making sure their training experience is not just educational, but also supportive and rewarding.”

A native of San Jose, California, Azah earned her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with a minor in aging from the University of Southern California. She then received the Navy Health Professions Scholarship, a prestigious award enabling her to earn her medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Tennessee. She then completed her internship in internal medicine at Walter Reed before becoming a flight surgeon and also earning an MBA with a dual concentration in leading organizations and health care management from Johns Hopkins University.

As a physician, Azah shares that she finds most rewarding the ability take care of people during what can often be a vulnerable time in their lives. “It’s very humbling,” she says.

“The biggest challenge I face is balancing the various demands placed on my time and attention,” Azah added. “It’s a continuous learning process but focusing on time management and prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance has been crucial. However, the true test comes in recognizing when to step away and prioritize my own well-being. Learning to delegate effectively and carve out dedicated time for self-care remains a work in progress, but it’s essential to avoid burnout and ensure I can continue to be the best leader and physician possible for my team and patients.”

Azah added that the road to becoming a physician is long and demanding, but incredibly rewarding. “If you’re passionate about science, driven to help others, and ready for a lifelong commitment to learning, then this path might be for you.”

She encourages others to “prepare for intense challenges, but also immense personal growth. The privilege of caring for patients and shaping the future of medicine is truly an honor.”

“As you advance in your career, no matter the field you choose, build your team of advisor,” Azah adds. “A group of trusted individuals from various backgrounds that can serve as sounding boards when you’re looking to make decisions about your career and life in general. My team has served as a source of support, advice and encouragement as I’ve navigated the twists and turns of life.”

She also comes back to her main source of inspiration – her mother.
“My mom has been a source of inspiration my whole life. Her and my dad came here from Cameroon in their 20s with the determination to make a better life for themselves and their future family. Through hard work and dedication, she was able to earn her nursing degree and then go on to become a nurse practitioner. Her steadfastness to her goals while raising three children reminds me of the strength that runs through my own blood,” she shared.

Azah added that she has also been inspired by some of the leaders she met while in uniform.

“During my time in the Navy, I’ve been blessed to know some great female leaders, such as my first senior medical officer, retired Cmdr. Kristin Browske. Her approach to leadership focused on empowering others and fostering growth and is a model I strive to emulate. Under her guidance, I learned the importance of advocating for myself and others.”
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