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Coalition officials praise Afghan leadership of medical training exercise

By Erika Stetson , U.S. Forces - Afghanistan

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KABUL, Afghanistan (January 19, 2012) — Coalition medical officials are making progress in turning a key medical training program over to Afghan control.

Afghan officials at Kabul’s Armed Forces Academy of Medical Sciences, or AFAMS, reached a milestone Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 by successfully managing workshops and lectures for the operational medicine course’s capstone educational event, which requires students to demonstrate hands-on trauma care techniques.

Roughly 75 students and 20 faculty members participated.

This year was the fourth time the course was taught. It also marked the second year Afghans were in charge of managing the workshops and lectures for the final training, prompting coalition officials this week to declare the program sustainable.

“I think it was an overwhelming success – and that was because the Afghans took on the majority of teaching themselves,” said Royal Canadian Navy Capt. Rebecca Patterson, a health services operations officer and AFAMS’ command advisor. “I’m confident that next year, the Afghans can assume responsibility for the delivery of this program themselves, with coalition monitoring only.”

AFAMS is a military medical education and training facility located next to the National Military Hospital in Kabul. The coalition’s goal is to ensure AFAMS serves as a national center of excellence for military medical education and training in Afghanistan. The coalition advisors for AFAMS are primarily Canadian, though some Americans also serve on staff.

AFAMS trains a range of medical professionals, including physicians, physician assistants, nurses and military medics. The operational medicine course “bridges the gap between civilian and military medical competencies at three different levels – it focuses on warrior care,” said Royal Canadian Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Burke, a doctor and advisor to Afghan Brig. Gen. Mohammad Yassin, a doctor and the medical education and research director at Kabul’s Military Medical Institute, a part of AFAMS.

Burke said the three areas for Monday’s training event were military medicine, critical care and military medical leadership. Students who successfully performed tasks such as opening airways and using ultrasound equipment to search for internal injuries received a certificate.

“Through the Afghan faculty, the students should learn essential skills for medical officers, including a performance-based evaluation to demonstrate these skills,” Burke said.

Yassin called the course very important for students.

“They have to learn the front-line problems – how to evacuate patients and get transport to the back of the field,” he said.

He praised the Canadian and American advisors as “very strong,” adding that “in the future we will be able to develop this course.”

Patterson and U.S. Navy Lt. Cdr. Shauna O’Sullivan of Jacksonville, Fla., a physician advisor for AFAMS involved in curriculum development, noted that female and male students were able to participate in the course side by side, an important achievement in Afghan education.

O’Sullivan, a rheumatologist, is stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., when not deployed.
She added that the course’s high quality also was drawing non-military medical professionals to participate.

“They want to come to this course because of how good it is,” she said.

She also praised the hands-on component of the training.

“They get a lot of learning out of actually doing the things we’re teaching them,” she said.

Like Patterson and Burke, O’Sullivan praised the Afghan instructors for managing the event successfully.

“The Afghans, at every skill station, took the lead and were instructing, which is something we want to empower them to do,” she said. “… We have enough Afghan talent that they will be able to sustain their own medical program.”