Medical mentor team trains standards, lifesaving

Posted: June 18, 2011 in Features, Stories

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mike Andriacco
Regional Support Command-North/NTM-A Public Affairs

CAMP MIKE SPANN, Afghanistan – An important part of any military is the ability to feed, house and care for its soldiers. Without this, a power force can collapse from within.

A team of mentors from Camp Mike Spann, near Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, is working hard to ensure the Afghan National Army has caring for its soldiers well in hand.

The Medical Embedded Training Team mentors the staff at the local ANA hospital in patient administration, pharmacy, surgery, nursing, laboratory, radiology, biomedical equipment, preventative medicine, patient evacuation, MEDEVAC and has recently gained a physician mentor, a role that has, so far, been empty.

The team is critical because although Afghan medical training does include a residency program, not all ANA physicians have the opportunity to attend. This means that once a medical student completes his or her studies, they immediately fill a role in a working hospital and are expected to complete the job at full competency.

The hospital has a 50-bed inpatient capacity. It is scheduled to expand to 100 this summer, and sees up to 100 outpatients daily. The ANA doctors are learning how to combat some of the most common ailments as well as the most complex battle-related injuries that compromise the army’s health and readiness.

“The most common illnesses vary by season,” said Chief Petty Officer Keith Etheridge, senior enlisted leader and medical records mentor for the METT. “In the winter, respiratory illnesses predominate and in the summer, it’s heat-related illnesses, especially at the ANA brigades.”

Most brigades are located on ANA forward operating bases, usually consisting of tents and outdoor cooking facilities. Because of the close quarters and austere conditions, heat injuries are a real threat to the army.  Additionally, the close living quarters and constant contact with other people promotes communicable diseases like gastrointestinal infections.

“Our infection control and preventive medicine mentors have made real improvements in breaking the chain that allows for outbreaks of diarrhea,” Etheridge said. “This has significantly reduced the number of ANA training days lost due to sickness.”

Lost training days due to health-related reasons cost the ANA plenty.
Each day lost is another challenge for coalition forces working to help the ANA field a strong, self-sustaining military, and to efforts to promote peace and stability in the region.

By far, the most difficult health challenge is traffic accidents in a country that’s seen the number of vehicles on the road increase significantly during the past decade. Many of the soldiers cannot read when they join and have never driven before.

An early Regional Support Command – North mentor team mission was to train ANA medics and doctors in proper treatment of illnesses and injuries. In the last six months, the METT mission has transitioned from one of training and mentoring to almost entirely mentoring, a shift that shows standards have been written and trained, and now must be maintained.

Additionally, the focus is now on mentoring healthcare system processes instead of individual patient encounters as the ANA clinical staff becomes more experienced.

“We focus a lot of our mentoring now on policies and procedures,” Lt.
Cmdr. Michael Tafoya, the lead nursing mentor. “We are also teaching the ANA doctors and medical staff to update their policies to fit their needs when necessary. Our goal is not to tell them how we think it should be done, but to help them develop standards further and then get there.”

The ANA medical staff has taken on more responsibility and welcomes the input from the mentors, while maintaining responsibility for how the hospital accomplishes the mission.

“We’ve never felt like they didn’t want our input,”  Tafoya said.
“They’ve been quick to take on responsibility for how things run here.
They understand why they do what they need to do, and aren’t afraid to change the way things are done if it will make operations better.”


Copyright: Katie Spencer
Senior Airwoman
US Air Force
Public Affairs
NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan
Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A)


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