SABAH AL SALEM, Kuwait – Two U.S. Army officers were licensed and credentialed to practice medicine in Kuwait following an award ceremony held at the Kuwait Armed Forces Hospital (KAFH) in Sabah Al Salem on May 19, for the first time in U.S. Department of Defense history.
U.S. Army Col. Ian Black, an anesthesiologist and command surgeon for 1st Theater Sustainment Command, and U.S. Army Capt. Yusheng Chen, the command dentist for Area Support Group – Kuwait (ASG-KU), were certified to practice medicine and dentistry respectively at Kuwait Ministry of Defense (KMOD) hospitals.
“It is an unprecedented move to have U.S. medical and dental professionals licensed to practice in Kuwait,” said the chief of medical services for KMOD, Sheik Abdullah M. Al-Sabah. “This is a major step toward interoperability.”
The excitement surrounding the historic nature of the event was palpable inside the room where the ceremony took place.
“The joy is beyond imaginable,” Chen said. “I still cannot believe it happened.”
The ceremony highlighted a years-long medical partnership between Kuwait and the United States and took place despite novel COVID-19 challenges. Participants complied with host nation and DoD mitigation measures.
“The licensing of Colonel Ian Black and Captain Yusheng Chen is another great example of our partnership combating this virus,” said U.S. Ambassador Alina L. Romanowski in a statement. “Our partnership goes beyond the medical field, as Kuwait and the United States have been regional partners for generations.”
While more work will have to be done before U.S. military physicians can establish a regular presence at KMOD medical facilities, local licensing is a step forward toward medical interoperability between the two nations.
“We’ve figured out a way to streamline the process,” said Maj. Adrienne Kramer, deputy command surgeon for ASG-KU, who was a primary facilitator for the process.
Kramer worked with Al-Sabah, KMOD quarantine camp commander Col. Raed Altajalli and Kuwait North Military Medical Complex director, Col. Nawaf Jandoul Al-Dousari, to remove several hurdles that needed to be crossed to credential Black and Chen in Kuwait.
KMOD and DoD set a precedent for medical collaboration years ago. In the early 2000s and into the first years of the Iraq war, U.S. military medical personnel worked at KAFH but were never fully credentialed to work in Kuwaiti facilities. In 2005, these U.S. personnel moved to Camp Arifjan and began working in what eventually became U.S. Military Hospital – Kuwait (USMH-K), the primary U.S. medical facility in the country.
In recent years, Kuwait’s MOD and the Ministry of Health (MOH) wanted to reevaluate, test and formalize the licensing and credentialing process of U.S. service members.
“Everything just seemed to fall into place,” Kramer said.
Kramer suggested to Al-Sabah the possibility of credentialing Black and Chen as a proof of concept to identify gaps in the process in January. Al-Sabah presented the proposal to the MOH, who reviewed the request. MOH verified documents such as medical school transcripts and U.S. certifications. The request was approved in February, but the ceremony was pushed to May due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was a pretty seamless process,” said U.S. Army Col. Jason M. Seery, command surgeon for U.S. Army Central (USARCENT), the Army service component for U.S. Central Command, covering 20 countries in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
The certification of DoD medical personnel in Kuwait facilitates a greater exchange of medical knowledge through patient care, contributing to the safety of both nations.
“The implementation of common sets of credentials, training, and equipment is important and ensures U.S. forces are more modular and mobile on the battlefield,” Seery said. “There’s a knowledge and manpower benefit to the Kuwaitis if we work out of their hospital.”
Increasing interoperability between both nations helps standardize care for service members and paves the way for collaboration in the event of a crisis. If U.S. medical facilities were overwhelmed in the aftermath of a ballistic-missile strike or other mass casualty-producing event, U.S. personnel could augment Kuwaiti staff at military hospitals. U.S. doctors working at KAFH would collaborate with Kuwaiti providers to share clinical practice guidelines that were best for U.S. service members.
“Let’s get our foot in the door so that if something does happen, then we would know the right processes and procedures,” Kramer said. “… It doesn’t need to be a contingency operation for us to work side-by-side.”
The relationship could also improve medical skills sustainment.
“If you could tell somebody, ‘Hey, you have the opportunity to go see host nation and U.S. Soldiers and work out of a Kuwaiti hospital utilizing your skillset,’ who would not want to embark on that opportunity?” Kramer said. “Why not?”
USARCENT medical specialists currently operate at USMH-K, but rarely treat significant numbers of trauma patients.
“In order for them to maintain their skillsets, it would be advantageous to do what they were trained to do,” Kramer said.
“It’s like parachuting out of our planes,” added Seery. “Or going to the range. If you don’t do it often, you get rusty.”
Keeping U.S. medical personnel deeply engaged during deployments in Kuwait could lead to better retention outcomes.
“A happy Soldier will reenlist,” Seery said. “A happy doctor and a happy nurse… they’re Soldiers also, right? They will continue their service.”
While COVID-19 has affected some ongoing medical partnership programs, such as lecture exchanges, medic exchanges and various workshops, with the appropriate precautions and measures, the valuable international bond between the two nations has not shifted.
“We have such a strong partnership and relationship with the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Health, and we’re trying to make it grow even more in terms of interoperability,” Seery said. “When issues came up with COVID testing and managing our most severe patients, there was no doubt [the Kuwaitis] were going to help.”
As more physicians and dentists are certified in Kuwait, the U.S.’s capability to help the Kuwaitis will increase, Kramer said.
For now, Black and Chen are not treating patients in Kuwaiti facilities. As the program matures, a pilot program would be the next step toward developing a full-scale program as USARCENT evaluates processes and infrastructure needed to support U.S. service members working there.
According to Seery, USARCENT would eventually like to have physicians and dentists selected, licensed, and credentialed in Kuwait before they enter theater, building a platform for future interoperability initiatives.
“If it works here, hopefully it can be implemented elsewhere too,” Kramer said.