BAGHDAD – A record number of Iraqi students attended a United States Forces-Iraq-sponsored International Trauma Nursing Course at the Ministry of Defense’s Ministerial Training and Development Center here from March 13-17.
Training events such as the International Trauma Nursing Course are sponsored by USF-I through the initiative of Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Ministry of Defense’s Strategic Advisory Group, and conducted by the U.S. Defense Institute for Medical Operations.
“Every year we work with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense’s Surgeon General to identify Iraqi military health needs,” said Dr. Adel N. Hansen, the medical advisor and liaison with ITAM-MoD’s Strategic Advisor Group. “We typically invite DIMO to come four times a year to conduct training.”
The classes with the biggest draw are always the trauma and disaster courses, said Hansen, who has coordinated seven DIMO courses during his three years here. “This year we invited 40 students and nearly 60 showed up, the extra students said they heard about it from their friends because these courses have such a good reputation.”
This course was developed for DIMO by U.S. Air Force Col. Liz J. Bridges after she recognized a need to share specialized trauma training with nurses.
“DIMO has put on a large Disaster Health Management Course and we felt nurses couldn’t really participate as well in that forum,” said Bridges, a 28-year Air Force veteran and native of Seattle, Wash. “So we built a course that focuses on trauma, and specifically the nursing role in trauma.”
This course serves as a forum to develop leadership among nurses. The Iraq course is the fourth iteration conducted by DIMO this year. The previous courses were taught in Pakistan, Nigeria and Estonia.
“We’ve trained more than 175 nurses around the world using hand-picked instructors who are all trauma nurses,” said Bridges, who is a Critical Care nurse and an Air Force nurse researcher now serving in the Air Force Reserve.
“The course focuses on emphasizing the primary things you must focus on for a trauma victim to ensure a successful outcome – airway, breathing, circulation and cervical spine,” Bridges said. “We are going through every aspect of trauma care, going through all the systems, breaking them down and bringing them back together.”
The students come from a variety of backgrounds within Iraq’s ministries of Defense, Interior and Health, and all came with the intent of expanding Iraq’s health care capacity in one form or another.
“I came to this course because I wanted to learn more information so I can teach more of my colleagues,” said Israa Sameer, a microbiologist with Iraq’s Ministry of Interior whose specialty is social care. “This is not really in my specialty, however I will be able to take what I learn here and share it with the community, and this will enable me to make an active contribution.”
“I decided to attend because I work in an emergency room and this will help me to keep up with new technologies and information so I can practice this in my ER,” said Heider Yehya, who is a nurse at Alkarkh General Hospital in Baghdad. “This type of training is especially helpful for those who need to know first aid and for our first responders.”
During the five-day course, students were provided lectures on how to respond to trauma patients as well as hands-on, scenario-based training to demonstrate how to react in specific situations.
“I am in such awe of how wonderful this course has been seeing all these students who want to make themselves better,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Collette R. Gardner, a registered nurse who is deployed with the 321st Aerial Expeditionary Group/Emergency Medical Expeditionary Support in Kirkuk.
“The first day of the course I realized why we are here in Iraq and what the mission is,” said Gardner, who is deployed from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and a native of Elwood, Ind. “We are supposed to be in a recovery mission, and part of that recovery is to help our Iraqi partners become better. I believe classes like this are assisting in that process.”
When DIMO conducts courses such as this one, they rely on military medical professionals who volunteer to take time out from their normal duty assignments to deploy as medical instructors and share their knowledge in developing nations.
“There are trauma nursing programs in the United States, but they’re not focused on developing nations and don’t have all the most current lessons learned from the battlefield,” said Bridges, who previously deployed to Balad in March 2009, and then went onto Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, to head up the Department of Defense’s medical research program.
“I am very impressed with the participants in this course, they are highly motivated, interactive, ask great questions and want to learn,” Bridges said. “Some of the students in this course have attended other types of training, and they have been very helpful to the others in the course by sharing their expertise gained in those other courses.”
Sharing of knowledge is critical to increasing the medical capabilities throughout Iraq, and USF-I-sponsored DIMO courses are structured to facilitate this process.
“I learned a lot of interesting new things here. I was also able to share some experiences from a previous course I participated in at Najaf, it was a 21-day course conducted by the Red Cross,” Yehya said. “Training like this is important because it presents different ideas and offers different points of view for discussion.”
The students were not the sole beneficiaries of the cross-nation training experience.
“I was most surprised about their overall acceptance of us in terms of instruction, and in general,” said Gardner, who joined the Air Force a little more than a year ago after spending 22 years working as a level-one trauma nurse in the private sector. “Back home people have the perception that they (the Iraqi people) don’t want us here. But they have been extremely open and very accepting of us here.”
“Volunteering to be part of training like this gives us an opportunity to reach out and interact with people,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Michelle A. Schnakenberg, a DIMO team instructor who volunteered to come teach this course from her home base of Joint Base McGuire Dix Lake Hurst, N.J.
“The students in this course are very willing to learn,” said Schankenber, a native of Oklahoma City, Okla., a critical care nurse and 22-years Air Force veteran. “The desire is there, they are clearly willing to work with us and want us to be here.”
As USF-I continues to work hand-in-hand with Iraq to strengthen long-term relations and build stability in the region, careful attention is being placed on increasing civil capacities as well as those in the military arena.
“Iraq doesn’t have the kind of nursing schools that we have in the states,” said Hansen, a native of Laguna Niguel, Calif. “So courses such as this one help to improve the quality of care available to the Iraqi people by providing specialized training.
“Furthermore these courses help to enhance the relationship between U.S. Forces-Iraq and the Iraqi MoD, and are the foundation for building enduring partnerships,” Hansen said. “They are also a good opportunity to help the Iraqis find an Iraqi solution and understand that sharing information can be mutually beneficial.”
As these 55 students graduate, they take with them a wealth of trauma nursing skills to share with their fellow nurses and colleagues.
“I am really hopeful that the Government of Iraq will continue to conduct collaborative training programs like this one in the future as a GoI initiative,” Yehya said.