An AAPL member since 2007, the retired U.S. Army major general and former chief medical adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has a new leadership challenge in the civilian world.
After serving many medical leadership roles within the U.S. Army, Maj. Gen. Joseph Caravalho’s military tenure reached a pinnacle two years ago with his last posting — as chief medical adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responsible for the health of more than 2 million members of the U.S. armed forces.
Last summer, he assumed a new challenge — as head of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, which supports military medical researchers, clinicians and educators.
He talked with us about his move.
QAfter 38 years in military and government service, what motivated you to transition into leadership of a nonprofit health organization?
AWhat may not generally be known about “military medicine” is that it’s an all-encompassing term and includes all aspects of health. As such, the Army gave me vast experience leading medical, dental, nursing, veterinary and allied health specialists. I enjoyed being a military physician but was beginning my transition out when the [foundation] position became available. The idea of remaining connected to military medicine appealed greatly, and if I wasn’t going to be in uniform, I wanted to be part of a team supporting those still serving.
QHow have the leadership skills you gained in the hierarchy of the Army translated into your new role?
AThe military prides itself on disciplined thought and action. I am quite comfortable with setting standards, and then operating effectively in a culture of accountability. That said, I’ve worked the majority of my career with civilians. Leading soldiers is much different than leading civilians, and I developed tools to be effective in both settings.
QWhat kind of cultural challenges are you seeing in your new role — and how do you resolve them?
AGenerally speaking, military and civilian cultures are different, with the former much more regimented than the latter. I appreciate that some level of standards and accountability is good, while some level of flexibility and individuality is also good. I look for that “sweet spot” that will propel my team to transformative changes at the speed and effectiveness we need, without losing commitment, loyalty and culture in the process. My teammates have been incredibly supportive as we grow and transform together.
QCreating a culture of accountability is important for physician leaders. How can they best leverage their skills to influence accountability throughout an organization?
AThe key attribute of physician leaders is their work history. No other group has this unique perspective that speaks to the essence of hospitals, clinics and other health delivery organizations. Building on this foundation, the physician must still develop and appropriately execute the right leadership skills to inspire others toward a common goal. This is where training, education and experience come into play.
QYou’ve handled situations with lots of moving pieces — including base realignments and deployment into war zones. How did the principles of physician leadership apply to your experiences?
AMilitary officers are trained to identify, describe and address complex problem sets. I’ve used this “military decision-making process” throughout my military career, and again in my current role at [the foundation] as we undergo transformational change. My background as a physician provides me credibility to speak authoritatively about our mission to advance military medicine. The ability to inspire effectively comes from training, education and experience. Lessons learned from AAPL exposed me to the perspective of civilian organizations and personnel.
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