Post-retirement, pioneering Army doctor not slowing down
EL PASO — For retired Maj. Gen. Carla Hawley-Bowland, there’s just no slowing down.
Hawley-Bowland, a 61-year-old medical doctor, stays active by volunteering through the Red Cross at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, a bustling military hospital in El Paso.
During her 32-year military career, she became the first woman doctor to become a general in the Army.
Since her retirement in 2011, she has settled in El Paso, where she was stationed for 11 years at Beaumont, including two years as the hospital’s commander in 2000-2002.
Two or three days a week, Hawley-Bowland, an obstetrician and gynecologist, volunteers at the hospital. She helps out with surgeries, teaches resident doctors who rotate through from the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine and serves as a mentor to younger doctors. She also teaches interns who rotate through at Beaumont.
“I’m the old gray hair, even though you can’t see it,” Hawley-Bowland joked. “I just did my roots.”
She does the volunteer work as a way of giving back and staying active.
“It’s what I love,” the Casper, Wyo., native said. “It’s busy hands are happy hands as far as surgeons are concerned. That was my happy place. When I was a general, that’s how I handled stress. I went to the OR.”
Hawley-Bowland kept her medical and surgical skills sharp even when she was having to concentrate on administrative work as a general.
Her last assignment before retiring was as the commanding general for the Northern Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, then in Washington, D.C. While she was at Walter Reed, she continued to perform surgeries.
While she found relief from the stress of her command duties in the operating room, everyone else would become stressed, she said.
“It was, ‘Oh, my, the general is in the operating room,’” she said with a laugh.
Lt. Col. (promotable) Rod Pattan, chief of the Department of Women’s Health at Beaumont and an obstetrician and gynecologist, said having a doctor and retired soldier of Hawley-Bowland’s stature volunteering at the hospital is “truly unique.”
“She’s a wonderful physician,” he said. “Her job in the military was mostly administrative when she was a general, but she is a wonderful physician and an exceptional surgeon. She’s technically very proficient. Her skills, experience and wisdom are a great resource for my younger doctors to tap into.
“Whenever my younger doctors have a difficult case, they ask if Carla will be available that day to help,” Pattan added.
Having Hawley-Bowland around also helps to keep things light around the hospital and she serves an inspiration especially to young female doctors, Pattan said.
“She loves to tease and be teased back,” Pattan said. “She’s a lot of fun to work with.”
The Army is going through a transition with sequestration, force restructuring and the end of the war in Afghanistan nearing. But there is definitely life after the Army, Hawley-Bowland said.
“They really do have skills they need to brag about,” she said about soldiers who are planning to leave the service. “They have leadership and organizational skills that other kids their own age don’t have, just by being in the Army.”
Hawley-Bowland said she got to be a department chief and program director at Army hospitals about 10 years earlier than her counterparts in the civilian world.
During her Army career, Hawley-Bowland was affectionately nicknamed “Mom” by the resident doctors she trained while at Beaumont.
“I had chocolate and jelly beans on my desk all the time to get them through the day,” she said. “When they had their mandatory test every year, I’d bring in food. I took care of them.”
She still hears from many of her former resident doctors. They’ll email her about some big case they had and “how what I taught them made a difference,” she said.
Hawley-Bowland received a military scholarship to put herself through medical school. She originally had a four-year commitment but liked serving in the Army so much she stuck around for another 28 years.
“I loved it,” she said. “I loved taking care of soldiers, their wives, their families, the retirees and their families, female soldiers.”
When she retired in 2011, she and her her husband, retired Col. Warren Bowland, moved back to El Paso. They picked the city because it felt the most like home of any of the places they had been stationed. It is also centrally located near much of their family, including their grown children and grandchildren.
They also love the climate here and have a vacation home that’s about an eight-hour drive away in Pagosa Springs, Colo.
“I’m from Wyoming,” she said. “We have lots of landscape that looks like this (the desert Southwest).”