By Tech. Sgt. Gregory RippsJuly 25, 2007
Patients in the emergency room at the Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, may find they are being treated by someone in a camouflage uniform.
That's because a dozen health care specialists in the Texas National Guard's 386th Engineer Battalion, based in Corpus Christi, are training there during their drill weekends.
At the hospital they have the opportunity for hands-on training with real patients that they don't have at their armory. This way they can better ensure their skills are up to Army standards.
Unit medics whose civilian jobs are in the medical field can rely on those jobs to keep them current. However, most of the unit's medics don't have a corresponding civilian career, and the time they have to practicing their skills is limited to drill weekends and annual training.
Lt. Col. John Besignano, an individual ready reservist who works with the battalion and also works full time at Christus Spohn Healthcare System, explored the idea of training the medics at the hospital. With the assistance and guidance of Lt. Col. Francisco Zuniga, battalion commander, the Christus Spohn Healthcare System administration, and some of his hospital colleagues, the idea became a reality.
"The ability to work side by side with hospital personnel presents the medics with an opportunity to keep their skills fresh and to learn about current practices from fellow medical professionals," said Colonel Besignano.
The battalion's 12 health care specialists, all qualified in their Military Occupational Specialty, have been training at Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital since December 2006. The only Level Three trauma center in the Corpus Christi area, the hospital has the capability, personnel and resources for emergency resuscitation, trauma surgery and a trauma intensive care.
The Guard medics are split up into three groups of four under a clinical supervisor, currently Colonel Besignano. They are assigned to the hospital's Emergency Department to work in triage, fast track or trauma, and work side by side with the hospital personnel. Although the agreement with the hospital restricts what care they can provide, their training still encompasses most of the 107 tasks Army medics are trained and qualified to perform.
"The training in the three sections provides the medics with experience in areas they will see in their military duty," Colonel Besignano noted. "They are incorporated into the hospital teams covering these areas and perform many of the same duties that hospital personnel do."
The training emphasizes teamwork, which Colonel Besignano said was a significant aspect of care - "as important to patient outcomes as the clinical skills involved."
The medics have been involved in assisting with a number of real-world cases, including multiple traumas (caused by motor vehicle accidents), gunshot wounds, stabbings, and many common medical emergencies that the medics will treat in the real world situations.
"They have done everything from taking vital signs, to starting an IV, to translating, to stopping bleeding, to comforting a patient in pain," Colonel Besignano added. "They have witnessed and participated in efforts to save lives and also have been there when the efforts failed and the patient passed away."
In short, the hospital staff seems to have been using every opportunity to teach the medics and to share their skills with the Soldiers.
"The doctors and nurses have gone out of their way to not only provide our troops with tightly supervised hands-on experience with actual patients but to help them understand the clinical reasons behind the care and help the Soldiers improve their abilities," said Colonel Besignano. "Our Soldiers are gaining not only experience but confidence."
"The ED staff has been very receptive to the National Guard training," added Wally Fears, R.N., Central Emergency Department/Trauma Education Program coordinator. "I think it just puts our job as 'teachers' in a different perspective. We are accustomed to teaching people that will be working in our community, but helping prepare someone that may be deployed to a war zone really makes you stop and think about the opportunity we have to make a contribution to supporting our troops."
Colonel Zuniga observed that the hospital training "has increased the readiness of the medics for their state and federal missions while contributing positively to the overall training of the unit."