HEIDELBERG, Germany - The chief of the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps and commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School gave a subtle lesson in mentorship at the Wilson Theater on Nachrichten Kaserne in Heidelberg Feb. 14.

As Maj. Gen. David Rubenstein extolled the importance of mentoring young Soldiers to about 100 members of the Heidelberg Health Center, 30th Medical Command and Europe Regional Medical Command, he was in effect doing that very thing on a large scale.
"Mentoring is counseling, coaching and teaching, and we all have that responsibility," the two-star told an audience ranging from junior enlisted to senior officers. "You can sit down for just one hour and have a mentoring relationship -- it doesn't always have to be a long, continuing process."

The general "mentored" this particular group for a good hour-and-a-half, touching on career-defining subjects as diverse as proposed changes to the military's retirement benefits system and reduction in troop strength, to a change in the medical service's philosophy introduced by the Army Surgeon General last month.

"We have to become a system of health, instead of a health care system," he said, reiterating Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho's challenge on the way ahead for Army medicine in an address she gave at the 2012 Military Health System Conference in National Harbor, Md., Jan. 31.

He explained that means finding ways to touch the lives of patients to promote individual health apart from the blip that is approximately 100 minutes average a year that patients see a provider (based on five visits of 20 minutes each). Affecting the remaining 525,500 minutes on the radar screen that makes up a patient's year is vital to instilling a continuous, healthy lifestyle, he said.

As Horoho noted, providers need to know what goes on in that "white space" between visits -- does the individual smoke during their outpatient visits? Do patients eat triple cheeseburgers? How many commit suicide?

"It's in the white space ... where health really happens," Horoho told more than 4,000 military and civilian medical personnel from all branches of service at the MHS conference. "And that's where we as individuals, we as a military health system, and we as a nation, must go."

"We have to keep people healthy, instead of spending millions of dollars to bring them back to health," explained Rubenstein.

To that end, while the Army will be downsizing personnel over the next several years to meet Congressionally-mandated end strength numbers, Rubenstein said that "people are arguing that the health care system needs to remain robust. The answer is not just to slash the medical corps and send our folks downtown for care because that's a very expensive cost."

Rubenstein, based at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, also visited Army medical staff at facilities in Bavaria and Landstuhl during his trip to Germany.

The former Army Deputy Surgeon General is no stranger to host-nation issues, having served in Heidelberg as commanding general of ERMC, command surgeon for the U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army, and commander of the 30th Medical Brigade.

He also served as commander of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

The experience of his various assignments all led him back to one overarching point during his address to Heidelberg staffers: "The most important part of career success (across the three areas comprising education, experience and affiliation that the general emphasized) is mentorship -- either to receive mentorship or to provide mentorship. If you have a career question, seek out someone with the knowledge and experience to help you. Mentorship is how we grow the next generation, he said."

The mentorship on mentorship that Rubenstein provided made an impression.
"Mentorship is more important now than ever before," echoed Capt. Vic Johnson, medical company commander with the Heidelberg Medical Department Activity. "As these wars went on, we lost certain aspects of leadership. Many of our junior officers today never served in a peacetime Army that our senior officers had the opportunity of serving. [It's important] to learn how changes will occur to help junior officers better prepare themselves."

And Capt. Janie Mena, executive officer for the Coleman Troop Medical Clinic at Mannheim, succinctly summed up the general's presentation: "We should all have a mentor, but we should all be one as well."