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Radiology director defines true leadership

Melonie Pernice brings her experience as a radiology specialist in the Army to a burgeoning career at Plainview and Syosset Hospitals. Her successes earned her Northwell Health’s 2018 Leader of the Year President’s Award.

Grit and determination propel Melonie Pernice.

Like so many Americans, the attacks on 9/11 forever changed the course of her life, serving as a catalyst to a military and professional career. It sparked the development of leadership qualities that she carries into all of her endeavors, including her role as director of radiology at Plainview and Syosset Hospitals.

Joining the Army

Ms. Pernice was in class at St. Joseph's College (NY) when the second plane struck the World Trade Center on 9/11. She wanted to quit school to enroll in the military, but her family encouraged her to finish her studies.

The call to serve never left, and she looked at all of the branches after graduating.

"The Air Force couldn't give you a job without signing up first," she said. "I tried the Navy, but they weren't taking females at the time. It was the same thing with the Marines."

So, Ms. Pernice landed in the Army. She scored high on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, which led her to the military's radiology specialist school in Texas.

"I was nervous because I didn't know anything about radiology," she said. "I never broke a bone even though I was very active as a kid.

"The first month trains you to become a medic. The second month was the radiology program. I did amazing. This was my calling."

Initially stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, a facility that cares for soldiers who have suffered a traumatic injury, Ms. Pernice was exposed to "really mangled soldiers," a harrowing experience that prepared her for her first assignment overseas.

Bullets whizzed by

After eight months at Walter Reed, Ms. Pernice was sent to Fort Totten in Queens and handed her deployment orders - shipping to Kuwait to get acclimated to the hot and dry climate of Iraq. Upon entering Iraq, where she would spend the next 544 days, the Blackhawk helicopter she flew in took on gunfire.

"We were immediately shot at by the enemy," Ms. Pernice said. "The pilot circled around and couldn't land. We circled for hours. We were running low on fuel."

The helicopter eventually landed safely. Mere hours into her experience fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom, she thought "this is going to be a long year and a half."

Caring for soldiers

In Iraq, Ms. Pernice was in charge of her platoon. Keeping them safe was priority No. 1. She says she became so accustomed to gunfire that she could differentiate the sound of an AK47 vs. an M16.

She also served as a radiology specialist, working in Combat Action Support Hospitals similar to those seen in the TV show MASH. Air craft dropped imaging technology - X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds - into these stations, which resembled POD containers. The emergency room was a tent in the field. If soldiers needed to be scanned, they were sent to the "POD" for the image.

Ms. Pernice said she did about 100 convoys in Iraq, where some soldiers died in the field. One still resonates - a man was hit by an IED and rushed to her field unit. The soldier bled profusely while she positioned him for an X-ray.

"I was holding his head up. He looked at me and passed away," she said. Ms. Pernice found a picture of his family in his helmet and the letter soldiers keep on them in case they don't survive. "I made sure I got the letter. When I came home, I met his wife and two kids. She was very thankful. I told her he was a true hero. I wanted her to know that and we did everything we could."

Leading radiology

Ms. Pernice returned home in 2006 and experienced the "culture shock" most veterans have after combat. She finished her six years in the Army (required for radiology specialists) and enlisted in the reserves.

She also pursued full-time radiology positions and landed at Northwell in 2011, where she has carried compassion, empathy and sincerity into her work. Ms. Pernice took advantage of various leadership courses Northwell offers through the Center for Learning and Innovation, such as ALEAD and the High Potential Development Program. She is a Six Sigma greenbelt and she currently teaches Time Management for Business Professionals at CLI.

She has pushed successful initiatives, improved employee engagement and enhanced efficiency - earning Northwell's inaugural Leader of the Year President's Award.

"I was so honored and humbled," Ms. Pernice said of winning the award. "I initially thought I don't deserve this. I went around and thanked the team. Without them I am nobody. The great work they do all of the time makes this award very special."

Ms. Pernice has generated a significant list of accomplishments at Plainview and Syosset, including several reaccreditations for radiologic programs, achieving tier-1 employee engagement, establishing American College of Radiology Centers of Excellence and creating the Radiology Administrative Succession Program, a one-year curriculum for high potential radiology managers who want to grow into a director role.

She also oversaw Plainview's participation in the SPARK! Challenge and she has developed several team-building initiatives. Most importantly, she said, she's helped implement a culture of collaboration and quality service.

"Being out there and meeting others from different departments helps with team building," said Ms. Pernice, who earned an MBA from St. Joseph's College and is pursuing a PhD in Professional Studies at Pace. "We have a good rapport with everyone in the hospital. We service everyone."

"I was so honored and humbled. I initially thought I don’t deserve this. I went around and thanked the team. Without them I am nobody. The great work they do all of the time makes this award very special."
— Melonie Pernice
Melonie Perniece took advantage of many opportunities offered at the Center for Learning and Innovation (CLI).
Learn more about CLI and its programs.
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