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Air University summit addresses medical officer education, partnerships

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) -- Air University recently held its first summit designed to take a look at new educational opportunities for the next generation of military medical officers and to advance collaboration and partnerships between military and civilian health care professionals.

The goal for the Air University Medical Officer Development Summit was to identify opportunities to link and enhance medical officer education and training, bolster both relevant research and translation of evidence, and expand professional networks, said Col. (Dr.) Paul Nelson, the Air Force surgeon general chairman to the university.

"Both our Air Force and medicine are changing, so how we train medical officers needs to change too," he said. "In the past two decades of war, our medical teams have performed beautifully, saving lives and providing world-class care in the air and on the ground, at home or on the road, as part of the joint team. We need to make sure these medics are ready for whatever future we help create. To do that we will need to partner in new ways with both military and civilian health care educators, and build upon the remarkable strengths of Air Force medicine."

The summit, held Nov. 2-3 at Maxwell Air Force Base, brought together medical professionals from numerous government organizations, such as the Defense Health Agency, the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the Joint Medical Executive Skills Institute, and the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, as well as from civilian hospitals, such as the Mayo Clinic's occupational and aerospace medicine branch.

Conducting a summit was driven in large part by the guiding principles found in Trusted Care Concept of Operations, released in October by the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General, Nelson said.

Col. (Dr.) Linda Lawrence, an emergency medicine physician and former hospital commander, leads the Air Force surgeon general's trusted care transformation task force.

"Trusted care is the vision for the Air Force Medical Service as a continuous learning and improving organization with a single-minded focus on safety and zero harm," Lawrence said. "This is the best way to support our Air Force's mission, both in garrison and while deployed. It will require sustained and substantive change in our approach to our mission and will require adoption by every Airman, everywhere."

Lawrence reinforced that a critical aspect of this transformation involves developing the system to grow both today's and tomorrow's leaders.

"We are excited to partner with Air University at this summit and follow-up activities to help transform how we develop our medical officers to lead in this 21st century health care and operational support system," she said.

The "strategic plan" for Air Force Medicine calls for the continued development of medical practitioners and for the use of medical modeling and simulation to help leaders "enhance health care team members' knowledge, skills and abilities." Part of the summit's agenda was professional military education and the start of a discussion on how a medical officer might be able to earn PME credits from sources outside of Air University.

"For example," Nelson said, "we our working toward a time where a medical officer takes a course on executive medical leadership developed by one of our joint or civilian partners. That course could count toward both a relevant portion of that officer's Joint PME requirements, but also toward medical professional maintenance of certification at the same time. That's a really cool synergy."

The timing for such a discussion couldn't be better as Air University is aggressively pursuing innovative ways of educating more Airmen more deeply and broadly.

"The transformation activities at AU give us an opportunity to think about how we provide education to all Airmen, including medical officers, who make up more than 15 percent of our active-duty officer force," said Brig. Gen. Christopher Coffelt, the Air War College commandant and commander of Air University's Carl A. Spaatz Center for Officer Education. "So it makes sense to think about how we make their PME experience relevant to their next jobs and how we develop total force medical leaders at all levels to meet the needs of our Air Force."

Air Command and Staff College, and Air War College medical students were also part of the agenda.

Eleven medical officers presented their student research papers, and attendees who found an interest in a particular research topic could link up with the student for possible future partnerships and collaboration in solving challenges in health care.

"The students are doing great work," said Maj. Robin Lech, a nurse corps officer and course director for the Air University eSchool of Graduate PME. "Their work will only get stronger when linked with the end users of their scholarly activity."

Along with using brainpower, summit attendees also devoted time to talk about how best to use technology to help solve difficult health care leadership challenges.

Attendees discussed the use of the wargaming and simulation capabilities at the university's Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education to prepare medical officers for scenarios they may face while leading clinics and hospitals to provide care and support the Air Force mission.

"We are working with the surgeon general's staff to develop scenarios to test our future medical group commanders around the 'trusted care' concepts," said Lt. Col. Joanna Rentes, the director of the Medical Group Commanders' Course at the Ira C. Eaker Center for Professional Development. "Having LeMay's wargaming center as a partner is exciting, but we would not have been able to realize the opportunity without bringing everybody together at the summit."

The summit was also used as a test bed for new conferencing techniques, such as mind-mapping, mini-lectures, social media and various collaboration techniques, Nelson said. But he is first to acknowledge that "nothing takes the place of putting people together in a room to share, collaborate and build relationships based on trust and shared interests."

The colonel said he is looking forward to building upon this event with follow-up collaborations.

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