The Meaning of a Navy Medicine Family
US Navy | Dec. 22, 2022
FALLS CHURCH, VA.: Across the U.S. Navy many service personnel speak of having two families. There is the personal family—the people who you are bonded to through blood ties and marriage. And then, of course, there is the “Navy Family”—those shipmates you work besides, united through shared mission and career experiences.
For some serving today in Navy Medicine, the term Navy Family can hold a very literal meaning. Just ask the Maldarelli sisters whose personal and Navy Family intermingle.
Capt. Jill Maldarelli-Drey is a 22-year veteran of the Navy who serves as the Assistant Director for Nurse Corps Policy and Practice at the Bureau of Medicine (BUMED). Her younger sister, Lt. Cmdr. Karen Maldarelli, a nine-year veteran, serves as a Plans, Operations, and Medical Intelligence Officer (POMI) at the Naval Medical Readiness & Training Command (NMRTC) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
“We come from a family where healthcare has always loomed large,” said “Capt. Maldarelli-Drey. Their mother, an aunt, and a cousin served as civilian nurses. When it came time to choose a profession, Maldarelli-Drey followed suit. After studying at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., and working at the Virginia Hospital Center (then known as Arlington Hospital), she decided to enter the Navy. While in service she met her husband—a Navy Air Traffic Control Limited Duty Officer. And then in 2014, Karen joined the Navy Medical Service Corps as a healthcare administrator.
“Growing up as Jill’s little sister I learned many things from her and I’ve looked to her for a lot,” said Lt. Cmdr. Maldarelli. “Just seeing Jill flourish in the Navy was exciting for me.”
Although her sister’s vocation was not in her cards, healthcare was always an aspiration for this self-described “blacksheep” of a family with deep nursing roots. Following graduation from Marymount University, she worked transportation policy at the U.S. House of Representatives, and then finance in the private sector before completing a Master’s in Healthcare Administration and a Master of Business Administration.
Over their careers, the Maldarelli sisters have collectively served in staff and clinical assignments, at training commands, as embarked personnel with fleet surgical teams, onshore at Military Treatment Facilities (MTF), on the operational side and for a time served concurrently at BUMED.
In 2022, this personal and Navy Family connection grew larger when their first cousin, Lt. (junior grade) Kyra Leszcynski obtained her commission in the Navy Nurse Corps. Leszcynski, who is presently working on a nurse residency at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va., is the youngest of the 16 grandchildren on their mother’s side. She credits the Maldarelli sisters with inspiring her own trek into the Navy.
“I had always been interested in the Navy,” said Leszcynski. “And at family gatherings I would often ask Jill and Karen about their careers. I saw what great careers they had and recognized that they were gathering life experiences that you couldn’t get in the civilian world.”
Throughout their time in service, their career paths curiously intersected with that another Maldarelli, believed to be related through their great grandfather.
Cmdr. Suzanne Maldarelli, who currently serves as the Staff Education and Training Department Head and the Market Education and the Training Lead at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, first met Capt. Jill Maldarelli-Drey when both were junior nurses working labor and delivery at NMC Portsmouth. They later attended the University of North Florida together on Full-time Duty Under Instruction (DUINS). Whereas Jill and Karen’s great grandfather Francesco (Frank) Maldarelli emigrated to the United States from Bari, Italy, Cmdr. Maldarelli’s grandfather Giorgio (George) originated in Naples, Italy, and moved to the United States as a young man in 1910s.
Despite not having the same healthcare roots as her “other family,” for Cmdr. Maldarelli’s there was always an expectation of military service. Due to an injury and his age, her grandfather was not accepted into military service during World War II, however, all five of his sons served and represented the Army, Navy, Marines Corps and Air National Guard. Suzanne’s brother served in the Marine Corps and helped inspire her own entry into the Navy Nurse Corps in 1999.
Throughout all of their careers, whether as nurses or healthcare administrators, care and support has been at the crux of what they do and, at the end of the day, remains the hallmark for what a family is.
“At the end of the day, your family are the people that love you and support you,” said Capt. Maldarelli-Drey. “What I have always liked about Navy Medicine, especially in nursing, is that in addition to taking care of one another on a day-to-day basis, in the event that you or a family member requires care in the inpatient or outpatient setting, it is our fellow Navy Medicine colleagues that provide that care. This brings the phrase ‘taking care of each other’ to a whole another level.”
“Family is also your shipmates,” said Cmdr. Suzanne Maldarelli. “This is no more evident than around the holidays especially when you’re overseas. Family is really making sure that you’re taking care of them and that they’re taking care of you.”