War on Terrorism

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Trainers Build New Afghan Health System

By Judith Snyderman
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3, 2010 – For hands-on medical professionals it is very difficult to stand back and watch others deliver care. Yet, that is precisely the job of some 250 members of a nine-month-old medical training advisory group serving in Afghanistan.

“That is our pathway to transition here, to help the Afghans perform and to increase their capability, not by doing [it] for them, but rather by advising them and stepping back,” U.S. Air Force Col. (Dr.) Schuyler K. Geller said during a Sept. 2 “DoD Live” Bloggers Roundtable discussion.

Geller is the command surgeon and commander of the medical training advisory group at Camp Eggers, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.

Geller said one of first things incoming advisors get is a medical mentor’s manual that describes their role, “not as a clinician, not as a nurse, not as a technician, but as a trainer.”

He said mentors are often embedded in Afghan army and police hospitals, and at regional hospitals. The largest facility and the premier training institution for Afghan nurses, doctors and combat medics, Geller said, is the 400-bed National Military Hospital in Kabul.

The time and effort required to become proficient in medical fields is intensive, Geller said. For instance, he said, “the physicians’ training program in Afghanistan takes a 12th-grader and puts them through a seven-year training program.”

Geller said officials are working to recruit more Afghan doctors, nurses and other medical specialists to bolster the country’s medical force.

He pointed out that the goal is not just to train Afghan health care workers, but to train them as instructors who will be able to carry on and sustain the effort independently. Geller cited impressive progress on that front.

“We will be able to transition in October the combat medic training, the medical officer's basic training, the medical sergeants or NCO training program and the logistics training program, entirely over to the Afghans,” he said.

Geller said he anticipates completing the transition of the remainder of nursing, physician assistants, biomedical maintenance, preventative medicine, lab, X-ray and other training programs by 2013.

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