By Pfc. Kimberly Hackbarth 4th SBCT PAO, 2nd Inf. Div., USD-CApril 14, 2010
BAGHDAD -- Iraqi medical professionals at Yarmouk Hospital had to cut short a tour for U.S. doctors and Soldiers when an Iraqi Army soldier suffering from a gunshot wound was suddenly brought into their ward.
As doctors from the hospital rushed to save the soldier's life, the Americans witnessed firsthand how the Iraqi medical system operates.
This encounter led to a suggestion by Dr. Khalil, an anesthesiologist with Yarmouk Hospital, that the Iraqi doctors see how their American counterparts handle similar traumatic injuries in their medical facility.
Eight Iraqi physicians were given that opportunity during a tour of the 28th Combat Support Hospital on Sather Air Base, April 7.
This was the first time the medical information exchange program, Operation Medical Alliance, had taken place on a U.S. military base. The program was organized by 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
The program, which has been conducted on a regular basis for several months, provides Iraqi medical professionals with knowledge and tools necessary to improve Iraqi healthcare through medical lectures and professional discussions on medical practices and treatment.
At the American hospital for the first time, the Iraqi doctors appeared very interested in the up-to-date facility, raising their eyebrows in curiosity and whispering to one another. Khalil said he noticed many differences between his Baghdad hospital and the one he was currently standing in.
"Even though [the Intensive Care Unit rooms in Yarmouk hospital] are 10 times larger than this one over here, this one has ... capabilities to be able to do a lot more with it than the one I have," said Khalil.
The head nurse of the ICU, Maj. Jerry Ross, showed Khalil and the other doctors around the ICU and explained the capabilities of the facility, how they accommodate an overflow of patients and answered any questions his guests had.
"I think it's important that we [have] dialogue with host nation personnel and keep a good rapport with them, [and] have a good working relationship, because I know we learn a lot from each other," said Ross.
Servicemembers from each section of the hospital had an opportunity to interact with the Iraqi doctors and build on the working relationship mentioned by Ross. It was also an opportunity for everyone involved to broaden their cultural boundaries.
"Some of [the doctors from Yarmouk] graduated a long time ago and they haven't left Iraq since, so it was a good experience for them to meet with foreign doctors who have the knowledge and expertise to exchange information," said Khalil.
"Personally, it's kind of a fulfilling experience," said Ross. "Any other time, we just have a little bubble [around us] of taking care of our patients - we don't get outside the wire to interact with the locals."
For Capt. Sean Riley, head nurse of the emergency medical treatment section, it wasn't the first time he has had the chance to interact with Iraqis. On a previous deployment, he had helped train Iraqi policemen how to treat casualties at the scene of attacks or explosions.
Riley said this experience with Iraqis was a little different, because the people who visited were medical professionals and hold degrees in their respective specialties.
He said he was especially touched that one of the directors from Yarmouk Hospital, who attended the walk-through, was interested in what Riley had to say about the CSH organized system of treatment patients receive the moment they set foot in the door, through the trauma room, and all the way up until their departure from the hospital.
"That's an honor to be able to maybe have a little bit of influence on the outcome of the future of their nation and medical healthcare," said Riley.
At the conclusion of the tour, the Iraqi doctors encountered a similar situation that the U.S. Soldiers had witnessed at Yarmouk; an injured Soldier being brought in for treatment by the Americans. Fortunately this time, the injuries were only simulated.
The "casualty," played by Spc. Alan Horsford, a combat medic with the 28th CSH and native of Jackson, Mich., yelled out in pain from the bed in the trauma room as his wounds seeped red-orange synthetic blood. CSH specialists kept conversation going with Horsford to calm him and learn what happened to him, as they scurried around the table and tended to his wounds. The Iraqi doctors peered over the shoulders of the medics, nurses and doctors surrounding the table, observing the situation as it played out.
At the end of the demonstration, the Iraqi doctors applauded their American counterparts.
Riley, along with many of the other specialists involved in the walk-through and final exercise, said they hoped that they imparted some knowledge to their counterparts so they can better assist their patients.
"We reinforced that the system works and has proven results," said Riley. "I hope that they can take that back to their facility and apply ... our horizontal teamwork strategy and put it into effect so they're successful."