News: Iraqi medical conference brings new knowledge to district
Story by Capt. Daniel T. Sem
TIKRIT, Iraq – The content of the medical lecture might have seemed standard fare to a normal American medical student, but to the Iraqi physicians, nurses and midwives starved for modern medical training, it was the cutting edge.
"For three years I have had this equipment in my operating room," Dr. Hussein, the director of Balad General Hospital in Salah ah-Din province, Iraq, said in reference to items used to start a central venous line in the femoral artery. "But until today I did not know how to use it."
Hussein's comments underscored the importance that the small conference had in continuing the coalition efforts in Iraq to modernize the healthcare system after decades of decay under Saddam's regime. The 3rd Squadron, 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division hosted the conference on Forward Operating Base Paliwoda.
This conference was the first time Iraqi medical staff had come to the base for an educational lecture, and set the foundation for a series of future educational initiatives meant to bring once-inaccessible medical training to the Balad health district. For the three Iraqi physicians and five nurses and midwives, the training was the first step in a growing partnership between coalition and Iraqi doctors.
Dr. Mahdi, a pediatrician from Balad, said that this kind of training is exactly what the Balad area Iraqi medical staff desire.
"This is a lot of information that we take from here," Mahdi said. "And I need more, especially me, I need more and more."
The training does not come without inherent personal risk, however, especially in a district once torn by sectarian fighting and insurgent activity.
"I was kidnapped before... because of cooperation with coalition forces," Mahmood, one of the nurses, said. She added that despite the danger, she could not pass up the opportunity to learn modern medical practices.
"When [the Americans] came, you extended your arm to cooperate and help us grow, so I must accept," Mahmood said. "Under all circumstances I must get your science, your technology and help."
Maj. Brent Lechner, the chief physician for 3rd Sqdn., 4th U.S. Cav. Regt. gave a lecture on rare kidney diseases and said the feedback from the Iraqis was beyond what he expected.
"I was very impressed with the knowledge base and clinical skills [of the Iraqis]," Lechner said.
First Lt. Andrew Michaelson, the medical operations officer for the squadron said that a month of planning and coordination with the Iraqis culminated in the small, but successful, medical conference. Michaelson said that the positive response from the Iraqis further emphasizes the need to continue these conferences.
"The engagement and dialogue with the doctors and nurses [that was] created was excellent," Michaelson said. "One of the first things Dr. Hussein said emerging out of the conference room was that he wanted to do it again and again."
Michaelson said that the intent of these conferences is not only to help educate the Iraqi medical staff with modern techniques, but ultimately to have the Iraqi doctors teach the nurses and other medical staff in order to bring them together as one team and transition the training to be primarily Iraqi-led.
Mahmood agreed this was one of the key issues confronting the Iraqi healthcare system.
"The problem here is that the main focus is on doctor staff," Mahmood said. "I think this is wrong as the nurse is the pillar of the medical system. Outside Iraq, they bow to nurses."
Michaelson said that the unit plans to continue the training at least once or twice a month to accomplish this task, with the help of the Iraqis to bring medical staff onto the base.
"They make great efforts to meet us in the middle," Michaelson said.