SEMBACH, Germany – Regional Health Command Europe conducted its fall Medical Surgical conference Nov. 16 – Dec. 4. More than 450 Army, Navy and Air Force healthcare personnel from across Europe, Qatar, Bahrain, Turkey, South Korea, the continental United States, and as far west as Hawaii, participated in the 14-day “virtual” conference.Also in attendance virtually were military medical personnel from Estonia, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Netherlands. The theme for this first-ever virtual event was “embracing innovation.” More than 100 presentations were given on a variety of medical topics over the course of the conference.The commander of Regional Health Command Europe, Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Mark Thompson, opened up the virtual conference and welcomed all of the participants.“The theme for this year’s conference is “embracing innovation,” which I think is particularly applicable this year as COVID has forced us to find new ways to continue to train and operate in a safe and effective manner,” said Thompson. “Virtual health has become the workhorse of outpatient medicine, so it makes perfect sense to do this conference virtually.”“One of our primary goals for this conference is to promote collaboration among healthcare staff,” said Thompson. “We work hard to provide education opportunities for our staff with a focus on readiness of the medical force. As the U.S. Army Europe Surgeon, I also synchronize the focus of our partnership and capacity building efforts with USAREUR and U.S. European Command priority missions.”Conference participants received lectures on a wide variety of medical/health issues to include, but not limited to; COVID-19, access to care, Military Health System Genesis, medical management, virtual health, acute traumatic brain injury, sleep disorders and behavioral health, etc.“Overall, this first ever ‘virtual’ continuing medical educational event was an overwhelming success,” said Col. (Dr.) Patrick Contino, chief of clinical operations for Regional Health Command Europe. “The participants earned valuable education credits and sharpened their clinical skills without having to travel in the current COVID-19 environment.”According to senior military medical officials, the original purpose of the MEDSURG conference was to provide European based Army providers, nurses and medical support staff continuing medical education units without incurring the added expense of sending them to the continental United States for training and education.“The MEDSURG has now evolved into a tri-service continuing medical education training platform available to all European based, CONUS and Pacific theater medical forces,” added Contino. “This is the first time, however, that we’ve had such a large group of participants from Pacific theater.”Army medical officials indicate that “virtual” type training is here to stay, for a variety of reasons.“RHCE will likely hold future virtual events even after the current COVID pandemic resolves,” Contino added. “However, some face-to-face training will continue to help ensure a ready medical force. This will be done by offering hands-on training and the associated skills verification required for critical warfighter tasks. It will also promote professional networking and real-time information exchange, and enhance medical staff morale.”“We are tentatively planning on alternating virtual and face-to-face training events held every six months,” said Contino. “RHCE is committed to refining the information technology platforms which will improve future conference planning and provide an even greater capability.”Katie Rachanow, conference planner for RHCE, says the event was an overall success, although not having all the participants physically together in one location created additional challenges.“This first ever virtual conference was successful in a variety of ways,” said Rachanow. “Not only was it a success in having more participants than any other traditional conference we’ve ever had, it created opportunities for our team to be creative and innovative collaboratively. We especially would not have been successful without the outstanding support of our [information management] team and the Defense Health Agency. They played a critical role in the success of the virtual conference.”During his closing remarks on the last day of the conference, Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Thompson said, “Please take what you learned from the virtual conference and use it to enhance the readiness of our medical forces, and ensure the medical readiness of the joint force.”“I hope you’ve used this opportunity to engage with your fellow conference participants and continue to cultivate those relationships,” added Thompson. “We truly are stronger together.”According to RHCE conference planning officials, plans are already underway for the next MEDSURG conference tentatively scheduled for June 2021.