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NMCCL Stories

News | June 10, 2024

Making history and honoring heritage – New medical center commander/director hopes to inspire

By Riley Eversull

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – United States Navy Captain Anja Dabelić makes history at Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune as the first woman to lead the Medical Center since its establishment as a haven for care some 80 years ago. Dabelić assumed directorship of the facility and command of Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) Camp Lejeune on May 21, 2024.

“I know that Navy Medicine chose me for this role on the basis of merit, not because I’m female,” Dabelić said. “But I’m able to say to other women that there are opportunities out there; go far and do what you love to get where you need to be.”
For Dabelić, taking on her new leadership role is a journey that began several decades prior through the dream of her immigrant parents. Dabelić is a first-generation American; her mother and father immigrated from Europe in the 1970s, settling in Friendswood, Texas.

“My father was a maritimer for then-Yugoslavia–now Croatia. The love of the sea was always apparent in our family,” Dabelić reflects. “My parents came to the United States for better opportunities. They instilled in us this sense of passion and grit and to do your best.”

With the tenacity of her mother and father and their shared loved of the ocean, she pursued career as a family medicine physician with the Navy. Dabelić received the Health Professions Scholarship through the military and completed her Doctor of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. She commissioned as a lieutenant in the Navy in 2002 and has served at various military medical facilities including two tours at NMRTC Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“For me it’s about pride. Growing up, my dad always encouraged [my brother and me] to go forth in the world, representing our family,” said Dabelić. “Knowing my parents came to the United States for a better life for us…it drove me to want to be successful, to do this.”
 
Dabelić hopes her story will inspire the Sailors she’s already met at the Medical Center who share similar backgrounds. While she’s only been in her new position for a few weeks, Dabelić has made quick effort to visit various clinics and offices around the facility.
 
“People are our greatest assets; I want to make that connection that we are one team one fight and build that comradery within. There are pockets of that already, but I look forward to homogenizing that throughout the command.”
 
Dabelić aims to carry on the command’s strategic goals, ensuring its medical assets including the NMCCL Trauma Center remain viable for the community. She also sees opportunities for building upon the basics of health care delivery now that the unpredictability of pandemic-focused health care has leveled.

Dabelić describes her leadership style as “transformational leadership” with proactive thinking while giving her team the opportunity for input, intertwining a servant attitude.
 
“I think we always experience change in the military, even in the Military Health System. One of personal ethos in life that I’ve always carried with me is that a positive attitude will yield positive results,” said Dabelić. “We all face the negatives. We all have to deal with it and how it affects our resiliency and our ability to say, ‘You know what? We are going to get through this together. Let’s find the positives and find a goal to get to that end.’”

Dabelić encourages her staff to introduce themselves and get to know her when they see her around the medical center. Dabelić recently served as commander of Navy Medicine Readiness Command Charleston where she led staff in caring for approximately 18,500 beneficiaries.




 
 
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