April 14, 2011

Yale Med Students, Faculty Courted By Army

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Military officers in dress uniform and Army Reserve medics in camouflage fatigues mingled with academics from Yale University Wednesday in an attempt to encourage Yale students and medical staff to consider working as Army medics and to publicize the Army’s humanitarian work.

The Army brought out retired General Stanley McChrystal, the high profile and controversial former Commander of U.S. and International Forces in Afghanistan,  as well as senior leaders of the Army’s Military Department from around the country.

The Army Medical Department’s public relations event at Yale was the first of its kind and the hope is that it will be done across the country, according to Major Michael P. Filipowicz, who conceived the idea to form a connection between the Army and the medical community.

Filipowicz, Officer in Charge at the Army Medical Department recruiting station in Wallingford, said he hoped to “get the best surgeons here and the best medical providers here to think about serving their country.”

Highlights of the program included a speech by McChrystal, tours of a portable medical surgical tent by Reserve medics from Connecticut and Massachusetts who are going to Iraq next month, and slides of Afghanistan showing, among other things, Afghan residents who sought medical care from Army and NATO doctors.

Deans, students and faculty in attendance were primarily from the Yale Schools of Medicine, Public Health, and Nursing.

Camille Hardiman, a Yale Ph.D. student in microbiology, was among those who toured the portable surgical tent. She called it “groundbreaking for so many military to be in an academic setting like this.”  Hardiman said it was helpful information at a time when she is thinking about a career.

But, she said, “it’s important, even if you’re not considering a career in the military to at least be aware of what the military is doing.” She marveled at the way Army medics use their medical knowledge in situations that are “so urgent.”

Filipowicz said he wanted the university community to “understand what we’re about.  We’re not just about treating wounded soldiers. We’re providing humanitarian care to anybody who needs our help.  Anyplace we operate in the world, we will treat people.  We’re not just a military operation.”

Dr. Frederick Lough, clinical director of cardiac surgery at George Washington University Hospital, told of humanitarian work in a slide show and presentation about his recent voluntary three-month stint as a combat surgeon in Afghanistan. Lough, a colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, showed a photo of a small child with a hernia brought to an Army hospital by his father.

He told of a life-saving operation on a Catholic priest who needed gall bladder surgery.  He talked about cultural differences that lead to misunderstanding between American soldiers and Afghan people, physical challenges in the mountainous and sandy country, and differences in medical philosophies among NATO medics from various countries who work together.

McChrystal talked about “relationships between institutions, like Yale and the military.”  The retired general resigned from the Army last year after being fired from his Afghanistan post by President Obama. This followed an article in Rolling Stone Magazine in which McChrystal was quoted as participating in a conversation with aides that was insulting to Vice President Joseph Biden and McChrystal subordinates were quoted making disparaging remarking about national civilian leaders.  This week the Obama administration tapped him to head an advisory board to support military families.

“We are one people in America, but we don’t always act like that. It’s critical for everyone to understand that America has a military,” he said, emphasizing that it’s not an America separate from its military.  He said understanding this is “the kind of thing that allows you to build relationships.” McChrystal is now serving as a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale where he teaches a seminar called “Leadership.”

Dr. Linda Schwartz, commissioner of the State Department of Veterans Affairs, said that “all in the medical field know that many of the advances in medicine have come about as a result of war.” She said that is because of the “urgency” of the conditions that are presented to military medical personnel.  Schwartz, who teaches the Yale School of Nursing, is a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U. S. Air force Nurse Corps.

The portable surgical tent on display was a scaled-down version of an actual one, to accommodate the indoor space at Yale School of Medicine.  There are also tents in the field which are used as recovery rooms and emergency rooms.  They are considered the first line of medical care, said Lt. Virgilio Sosa, of Bridgeport, an operating room nurse.

Called DRASH, for Deployable Rapid Assembly Shelter, the tents can be assembled in an hour. This is designed to provide care in what is referred to as the “Golden Hour,” Sosa said, explaining that treatment of injuries within an hour can result in a 96 percent chance of survival.

By contrast, in World War II, a soldier with a treated gunshot wound had a 50 percent chance of survival, said Special Daniel Suzano, a practical nurse from Danbury.

The medics in attendance were from the 947th Forward Surgical team, which is based in West Hartford and has members from Connecticut and Massachusetts. These teams are comprised of 20 people, usually consisting of four surgeons, three registered nurses, two certified registered nurse anesthetists, three licensed practical nurses, three surgical techs, three medics, one administrative officer, and one detachment sergeant.

The tent on display was equipped with, among other things, a surgical bed, lights provided by a generator, anesthesia equipment, devices to check vital signs, surgical tools, drapes, gowns, dressings and gauze.  The tents can be assembled in a variety of shapes and with varying openings, depending on need.

The staff of the 947th Forward Surgical Team is comprised of Army Reservists, but is led by Captain Peter Arnold, an active duty Army soldier.  He is a nurse anesthetist from New Britain who works at the Veterans Administration Hospital in West Haven.  He will serve as both the commander and as a nurse anesthetist on the upcoming deployment to Iraq.

He explained the role of the tent as he pointed out equipment he uses. “It allows you to do the same job as you do in a civilian hospital, but out in the middle of nowhere, where resources are limited and there’s a more austere environment,” Arnold said.

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