Do you remember when this scene first played on primetime television, and the inevitable outrage that followed it? Many saw the controversial dialogue as racial slander towards Pilipinos, while others merely brushed it aside as
nothing but a joke. However, joke or not, it’s pretty apparent that even today the overall legitimacy of medical degrees achieved in the Philippines remains in question. That perception, along with the stereotype that Pilipina women are often found taking some sort of medical profession, are issues that Dr. Connie Mariano faced throughout her career. But with much determination, she was able to achieve success while breaking through barriers and boundaries.
Dr. Eleanor “Connie” Mariano was born in Sangley Point Naval Base in Cavite City, Philippines, to a Navy enlisted serviceman and a dentist. At the age of 2, she and her family moved to Hawaii, and continued to move thereafter, with her father in the military. After graduating from high school as Valedictorian and receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with honors from the University of California at San Diego, Mariano proceeded to follow in a similar path to both her parents.
In 1977, Mariano joined the U.S. Navy and began attending the Uniformed Services University School of Medicine, which was the nation’s military medical school. Graduating in the 1981, she received her medical degree and was commissioned as lieutenant in the United States Navy. From there, Mariano completed her internship and residency in Internal Medicine at the Naval Hospital in San Diego, where she later became the Division Head of General Internal Medicine. She also served as General Medical Officer and Medical Department Division Head onboard the USS Prairie; and after receiving her board certification in Internal Medicine, Mariano was assigned to the Naval Medical Clinic in Port Hueneme, California, where she was in charge of the Specialty Clinic and urgent care facility.
All of her work and experiences eventually led to these accomplishments:
- In 1992, she became the first military woman to become the White House Physician to the President.
- In 1994, she became the first woman Director of the White House Medical Unit.
- In 2000, she became the first Filipino American in US history to become a Navy Rear Admiral, nominated by Clinton.
Dr. Mariano was first chosen by President Bill Clinton to serve as his personal physician, eventually serving a total of 9 years to three sitting presidents (President George H.W. Bush, Clinton, President George W. Bush). After receiving the rank of Navy Admiral and completing 24 years of active duty service in the military, Dr. Mariano retired in July of 2000, and in 2001 she retired from the White House. Dr. Mariano now resides in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she founded the Center for Executive Medicine in 2005.
Dr. Mariano has definitely been one of the most successful Pilipina Americans in United States history. However, much of her success didn’t really come too easily. With all of her achievements, Dr. Mariano fought through the obstacles of being a woman and a Pilipina American. She had stepped into uncharted territory aiming to do what she did best, and survived to share her experiences. And not only did she survive, Dr. Mariano has become one of the most influential Pilipina women in United States history, to both Pilipino Americans and women in medicine and the military. With all the
negative stereotypes and perceptions in today’s society, she has found a way to open doors for those aspiring to be just like her.