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From Bosnia to Bethesda: One Army cardiologist’s path

By Mark Oswell

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Not much gets Army Capt. (Dr.) Zorana Mrsic nervous. In fact, one of the only things that makes the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center cardiology fellow a bit nervous is the chance of mispronouncing a new patient’s name.

Mrsic’s ability to overcome adversity is a skill she has honed her entire life.

Born in Sanski Most, Bosnia in 1995 during the aftermath of the modern Balkan War, Zorana Mrsic (pronounced Mrch’-chich) and her family immigrated to Serbia when she was just 7 years old.

While staying with extended family in Bukovac, Serbia, Mrsic’s parents applied to emigrate to Canada, Australia or the United States. The American embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, was the first to respond.

Upon being accepted, her family departed Serbia and settled in Lawrenceville, Georgia, a suburb northeast of Atlanta, where Mrsic and her sister both attended Central Gwinnett High School, and Mrsic graduated as valedictorian.

Her high school chemistry teacher told her that he thought she might make a really good physician, which sparked her interest in medicine.

Mrsic took an accelerated track to complete her undergraduate studies at the University of Georgia in just two years. After graduating with a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology, she entered medical school at the Medical College of Georgia in 2009.

While attending medical school, Mrsic decided to enter the F. Edward Hébert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. The HPSP subsidizes doctors and other specific programs, paying for tuition, books and fees for up to four years of school in addition to providing a monthly stipend. After completion of the program, the recipient is commissioned into the U.S. military as an officer in either the Army, Air Force or Navy.

“I primarily wanted to join the military because I wanted to be trained like a military doctor,” explained Mrsic. “The other benefits offered by the Army, including financial incentives, I used to convince my family that it was the right choice,” she continued.

“I firmly believed, and still do, that military physicians have better training, and I wanted to be the best doctor I could be,” Mrsic added.

The Army commissioned her as a second lieutenant in March 2010. After medical school her first military assignment was at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where she completed her residency and then attended the Army’s basic officer course.

Mrsic arrived at WRNMMC in September 2016, and now serves as a fellow in the cardiovascular fellowship program, seeing patients, attending specialized classes and being mentored under the tutelage of cardiologists at the medical center. Currently on an “echo” rotation, she “performs and interprets ultrasound studies of the heart (echocardiograms), [done] to evaluate a variety of cardiac conditions. These studies include invasive transesophageal echocardiograms to guide procedures; stress echocardiograms to assess for coronary artery disease or valvular disease; and include the most cutting-edge technology, such as strain imaging and four-dimensional echocardiography,” explained Army Col. (Dr.) Todd Villines, cardiovascular fellowship program director.

 

Describing her fellowship, Mrsic explained how she’s not only learned a lot about medicine, but also military leadership.

“The way this clinic runs, as a fellow you’re forced to coordinate a lot and you learn how to be a military leader largely through that process…how to take care of people who work with you, how to get them what they need, and what they need to be supported,” she said.

Although fairly new to the medical field, this Army doctor has thoroughly enjoyed learning all she can during her WRNMMC cardiovascular fellowship, and is working to become a top cardiologist in the Department of Defense, she said.

Currently serving as the chief cardiology fellow, Mrsic is responsible for the day-to-day fellow schedule and has led the inaugural "D.C. Cardiology Fellow Bootcamp," a unique, hands-on simulation and didactic two-day program designed to help fellows learn the basics of cardiology procedures prior to starting their clinical rotations.

Villines, who has worked alongside Mrsic on a daily basis during her fellowship, explained why he feels that she is on the path to being a future leader within the Military Health System and within the broader cardiology community. “She is selfless and willing to serve in any capacity, whether that be in the operational realm with units, on the battlefield, or as a clinical leader.”

Mrsic also sees her future with military medicine, explaining “I wouldn’t mind doing this for the rest of my life.”​