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Air Force medics support US and UAE medical capabilities, partnership, readiness

  • Published
  • By Chloe Arevalo
  • U.S. Air Force International Health Specialists

U.S. Air Force medical personnel are working with sister services to partner with the United Arab Emirates to build a hub for complex trauma, burn and rehabilitation capabilities in Abu Dhabi.

The U.S. Department of Defense has committed to sharing trauma, burn and rehabilitative medicine best practices with partners through global health engagement.

In 2017, the Secretary of Defense directed elements of the DoD to collaborate with the UAE in a series of bilateral cooperation initiatives to deepen and expand military-to-military ties between the United States and this key regional partner. One of these initiatives focused on building an intensive, long term, bilateral joint military trauma and rehabilitative care capability within the UAE. This culminated in the UAE Abu Dhabi Executive Office, along with U.S. Central Command, to establish the Trauma, Burn, and Rehabilitative Medicine program, or TBRM, with an initial operation starting in 2019.

Since this inception, U.S. Air Force medics have participated in the TBRM program, which uses global health engagement to share military medical knowledge. This increases readiness, enhances international military–civilian partnerships, and supports U.S. strategic priorities.

In January 2023, the UAE Ministry of Defence held their first annual Emirates Military Health Conference in collaboration with the TBRM team to provide a forum for civilian and military medical experts to exchange knowledge and skills. At this conference, the UAE Armed Forces Surgeon General, Staff Brigadier Dr. Aysha Aldhaheri, emphasized the ongoing improvement in trauma care organized by this unique partnership between two militaries and the civilian sector.

“The purpose of the conference was to exchange knowledge and skills and increase military–civilian cooperation to enhance trauma, burn, and rehabilitative capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Erik DeSoucy, U.S. Air Force Trauma Deputy Director of the U.S. and UAE TBRM team.

To support this goal, the TBRM team and their UAE partners have taken a comprehensive approach to enhance trauma care infrastructure at the national level, which benefits both the military and civilian sectors.

The Airmen in the TBRM team worked with policy leaders from the Abu Dhabi Department of Health to establish a regional trauma infrastructure while simultaneously partnering with clinicians from the UAE Armed Forces Medical Service Corps and the Mayo Clinic to build a trauma program serving the needs of injured civilian and military patients at Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City, which is a 760-bed hospital in Abu Dhabi jointly run by the UAE government and the Mayo Clinic.

“The TBRM program provides a unique opportunity for Airmen to develop a trauma care system in collaboration with our partners,” said DeSoucy. “The U.S. Air Force and the UAE Ministry of Defence have been able to leverage our combat casualty care experience to build robust trauma care systems.”

At the Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City, the TBRM team, in collaboration with Emirati civilian partners, established a stand-alone trauma program and trained a trauma resuscitation team. They also built a massive transfusion protocol, designed a performance improvement and patient safety program, and published multiple Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City clinical practice guidelines.

The combined team effort reduced mortality rates for trauma patients over the past two years despite an increase in trauma admissions and injury severity.

“By focusing on system-based care and evidence-based care in the setting of a robust performance improvement program, the whole team contributed to improving patient outcomes,” said Lt. Col. Brian Gavitt, U.S. Air Force Trauma Director of the U.S. and UAE TBRM team. “It is rewarding to see how trauma care has improved over time. By leveraging the strengths our partners’ experiences, the impact has been massive.”

With the established relationships at the Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City, and the support of the UAE Ministry of Defence and U.S. Central Command, the potential exists in the future to have Air Force medics practicing at the hospital while deployed in the region between missions.

“This would maintain individual readiness and allow medics rotating through the Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City to maintain critical skill competencies at a high-volume trauma center, while simultaneously developing their ability to function and adapt in a cross-cultural setting,” said Gavitt.

Gavitt also emphasized the impact that this military-civilian cooperation has on the program and the Airmen.

“It has been a learning experience working in a blended trauma system where there is a tremendous diversity of training and background expertise. Learning how to leverage our strengths and respective skills is important when we are working together to enhance trauma care and serve the needs of our injured patients,” said Gavitt. “This international partnership, in a global health engagement setting, allows for the exchange of best practices between partners and improves Airmen’s cross-cultural communications, cultural competency, and interoperability.”

The TBRM program helps build a resilient joint force and develop an intra-theater military readiness platform to support the U.S. DoD and other partners with the support of the UAE Ministry of Defence.

“When I am standing at the bedside of a single trauma patient, I can affect that one patient. But when we build a system around trauma care, we can affect multiple patients at a time, and that has the potential for multigenerational impact,” said DeSoucy. “The TBRM program is an opportunity to broaden collaboration across the U.S. Central Command region and develop an unmatched network of partners.”

The enduring goal of the program is to establish a comprehensive and sustainable UAE trauma, burn, and rehabilitative medicine capability and an intra-theater military readiness platform that supports civilian trauma care, combat casualty care, and the subsequent recovery and rehabilitation of civilians and military personnel.

“The TBRM team is establishing a military-civilian trauma care system with our UAE partners to maintain skills, and to develop a robust and resilient health infrastructure for all involved. We all can appreciate that when we work together with our UAE partners we can achieve great things,” said DeSoucy.