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Connie Mariano: The White House Doctor


It was supposed to be a two-year tour of duty, but it turned into the "job of a lifetime" lasting nearly a decade.

That's how Connie Mariano, M.D. describes her nine years as a doctor in the White House.

Her tenure began in 1992 at the end of the first George Bush's presidency and lasted to the final day of Bill Clinton's 8 years in the White House in 2001.

She began as Lieutenant in the Navy's Medical Service and ended her military career as Physician to the President, a Rear Admiral, the first Philippine-American to reach that rank.

In her new book, The White House Doctor (St. Martin's Press; 2010), Dr. "Connie," as she came to be affectionately known, felt it was a job she had "no chance of getting."

"Well, I don't look like a typical White House doctor who's usually Caucasian, male, West Point graduates," said Mariano in an interview on CBS' "Washington Unplugged." "And every time I stepped into the room, they think 'Oh, you must be one of the White House nurses.'"

Mariano is the daughter of U.S. Navy steward and she freely admits the degree to which that has influenced her life.

"It was a major factor," she said in our chat in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. "When my father joined the Navy in the 1940s, the only positions they would give to Filipinos at that time was to be a valet or a medical. So when I became a Navy Admiral, that was a significant achievement for Filipino Americans, to make their way to a flag officer."

Even so, when she applied for the job of a White House doctor, she says she approached it with a "servant's mentality."

"You are there to take care of the President; you are there to take care of the First Family. It's all about them," she said, "it's not all about you."

As White House doctor, her job was to be instantly available to treat the president in case of emergency.

To this day, the words "Eagle moving," get her heart racing. It was the phrase she would hear on her Secret Service radio telling her to grab her doctor's bag and head to the motorcade or whatever place Pres. Clinton was going. If the president was on the move, she had to be as well.

And she learned early on that sometimes all her medical training came down to whether she had a Band-Aid handy.

On her first outing as a White House doctor, she was assigned to accompany Pres. George H.W. Bush on a golf trip in Maryland. She said packed her medical bag "for the possible worst case scenario: a gunshot wound, heart attack, nuclear war, you name it."

But when the president said he needed a Band-Aid, she rifled through her bag.

"I couldn't find it," she told me. "I had the defibrillator material; I had the intubation kit." She couldn't find a Band-Aid.

As the president walked toward her, Mariano says "finally at the very bottom of the bag was one single Band-Aid."

The president put his foot down on the fender of her golf cart and she placed the bandage on his foot.

"You are a great American," she recalls the president telling her. And she was relieved. "I still have the job," she remembers thinking to herself.

Since leaving the White House, Dr. Mariano retired from the Navy and went into private practice, first at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. A few years later she founded her own Center for Executive Medicine, a concierge practice where she still treats presidents: of corporations, not countries.

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