Dr. Rola El-Serag, medical director of the Women’s Health Center at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, chose a career at VA to bring cutting-edge, integrated care to the fastest growing subset of the Veteran population — young women Veterans.
El-Serag’s standout dedication has even drawn others to a VA career. “She is so unbelievably passionate about women Veterans’ healthcare,” said Dr. Alison Sweeny, a clinical psychologist and VA colleague of El-Serag. “Coming here, she was one of the main draws because I knew how dedicated she was to building this program for our women Veterans.”
Like other VA physicians, El-Serag treats her Veteran patients as part of a patient-aligned care team (PACT). PACTs assemble physicians, nurse practitioners, case managers, medical support staff and mental healthcare providers who collaborate to arrive at the best care approach for patients. Experts in women-focused specialties like maternity and breast care are on-site for easy consultation.
“I have a PACT team that consists of nurses, and we have a psychologist here in our Women’s Health Center that also is specifically trained in women Veterans’ mental health and trauma,” El-Serag explained. She added that the breast radiologist is also located within the center.
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Although women Veterans face the same healthcare concerns as their civilian counterparts, military service can result in specific health challenges.
“Women Veterans have unique needs: everything from unique psychiatric needs to unique healthcare needs,” said Dr. Mahdieh Parizi, a breast radiologist who works closely with El-Serag.
VA in 1988 committed to making sure it was fully equipped to care for its burgeoning female Veteran population by establishing the Women Veterans Health Program (now called “Women’s Health Service”). The current population of women Veterans is 8 percent, up from 4.4 percent in 1988. That percentage is expected to grow to 18 percent by 2040, according to VA data.
The Houston VA Women’s Health Center was designed to incorporate mental healthcare, maternity care and radiology imaging in a single on-site location, allowing providers in different specialties to closely collaborate within their PACT. Patients can also see specialists or get important cancer screenings the same day as their other appointments.
VA has given El-Serag the freedom to foster this culture of collaboration as part of her role as medical director in Houston.
Parizi noted that Houston is “very fortunate to have an all-encompassing, very inclusive, comprehensive women’s center that’s headed by El-Serag, who has been essential in helping establish our breast care center.”
“I enjoy working with her because she has years of knowledge,” added Kim Gibson, a licensed vocational nurse who works with El-Serag. “So, she makes it very easy on me, and she’s easy going. When we flow, we have a great flow together.”
El-Serag is quick to note that it’s a team effort. “Every single one of us is dedicated and really focused on the same mission,” she said, “which is to advocate for our women Veterans.”
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El-Serag chose a career shaping the advancement of healthcare for women Veterans enrolled in VA.
See if a VA career as a physician or senior leader is the right choice for you too.