- Author: Zac Wood
- Category: People
- Issue: Apr 2014
Former White House head physician Connie Mariano provides presidential care to Valley patients.
Last year, when CNN asked Dr. Connie Mariano for a quote about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie eating a doughnut on the Late Show with David Letterman, the Scottsdale-based physician – after carefully stipulating she had never reviewed Christie’s medical records – said she’d be “very worried about him dying in office” if she were his presidential physician, adding that the portly politico was “almost like a time bomb waiting to happen.” True to form, Christie went off like a bomb, calling Mariano “just another hack who wants five minutes on TV.” Undaunted, Mariano defended herself and her remarks. “I’m not a hack,” she told Bloomberg. “If you look up my resume, I’ve been in the White House for nine years. I’m a retired Navy rear admiral. I’m board-certified in internal medicine.”
Maybe Christie should have thanked Mariano for the free prognosis. After all, three sitting U.S. presidents depended on the famously feisty physician to tell it like it is – and some of the Valley’s most well-heeled patients line up at her door for the same.
Following a naval career that spanned the globe, Mariano, 59, was selected to the White House Medical Unit by her commanding officer in 1992. She soon became the first female head physician at the White House (see sidebar) and the Navy’s first Filipino-American rear admiral. In 2001, she retired from the Navy and the White House, and took a job at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. Capitalizing on her Beltway pedigree, she left Mayo four years later to launch her private practice, the exclusive Center for Executive Medicine (CEM) in Scottsdale, which promises to “treat every patient as though they were the President of the United States,” from White House-caliber medical equipment to head of state hospitality. The office is even laid out to facilitate Secret Service-style security protocols – every room has more than one exit, for security, or for avoiding the paparazzi.
Founded in 2005, CEM was a pioneer in the “concierge medicine” trend (see feature on page 240). “Concierge care returns to the basics of good medical care: the relationship between the patient and his or her physician without the insurance company or the government between them,” Mariano says. “I work directly for my patients and not for the government, insurance, or a large hospital group.” For $12,000 per year, Mariano’s clients get direct access to her cell phone, email and Skype. When medical appointments (which are not covered in the annual fee) are required, she promises same or next-day scheduling. “We cater to the one-percenters,” Mariano says. “Those for whom money is no object; they just want the best care.”
One of Mariano’s patients is Kathy Hanrahan, former CEO of Taser and current COO of Epic Diagnostics. “When you are lucky enough to find someone as caring and as committed as Dr. Mariano, it can be life- changing,” Hanrahan says. “She is an amazing physician who genuinely cares about her patients, and understands that health care means looking at the whole person.”
Limiting her practice to less than 350 patients (a typical doctor averages more than 2,000), Mariano affords herself the luxury of getting to know her patients, their families, their habits. Annual physical appointments guarantee more than an hour of face time with her, and she’s always just a call away.
Born Eleanor Concepcion Mariano to a Filipino immigrant father (who eventually retired from the Navy with a rank of master chief), Mariano worked her way from California public schools into the Navy’s Medical Corps. When Bill Clinton promoted her to rear admiral in 2000, her father came to pin the rank insignia onto her uniform. “When he pinned my shoulder-boards, in the state dining room of the White House, he had tears in his eyes. For coming from not speaking English to pinning the shoulder-boards on his daughter, who is a rear admiral, in front of the president and first lady, that is an American story,” Mariano says. “This is a great country.”
Mariano’s memoir, The White House Doctor, was published in 2010 (St. Martin’s Press). She says writing is harmonic with practicing medicine. As a writer, she is curious, and being a doctor gives her the privilege to “ask my patients about anything – and they’ll just tell me. It’s because of that trust. But that’s how you learn things and can help them.”
The CNN appearance wasn’t her only brush with media stardom. Ryan Seacrest and company approached Mariano in 2011 with a “White House makeover” reality show pitch, where she would join other former White House staffers in the refashioning of an entire family. She declined, preferring to avoid the “glare of reality-show drama.” She also demurred when Hawaiian Senator Will Espero recommended her for the position of Surgeon General in a letter to President Barack Obama in 2009. In the letter, Espero calls Mariano “one of the finest officers that ever served with excellence in the United States military and in the White House. She is someone who has never wavered in serving for the common good of the American people.”
But Mariano says she has no interest in pursuing public office: “I’m at a point in my life where I just want to focus on my patients, on my practice.”
The married mother of two also serves as medical director to the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists. She hopes to show young Americans they can do even more than she has.
“It [was] important [for me] to be the first, because that can pave the way for others,” she says. “If you have the education and the ambition, and work hard, you can achieve it.”
President Bill Clinton personally chose Dr. Connie Mariano to be White House Head Physician when he entered office in 1993. In 2010, Mariano revealed Ken Starr had chosen her to draw Clinton’s blood for DNA analysis in the investigation into the president’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky. When Clinton appeared on television to infamously state, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” he was wearing a Robert Talbott necktie Mariano had given him for Christmas.
In addition to Clinton, Mariano served as a physician to Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. On one memorable flight aboard Air Force One, she stood by to provide care to Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and then-President Bill Clinton all at once. After Clinton looked in on his guests (bunking, due to space constraints, in the medical cabin of the plane), Mariano prepared to sleep. Her assisting nurse woke up, and she gave him the directive that was the core of her service: “Just make sure they keep on breathing.”