Military doctors train alongside UCHealth physicians to ready for action

October 10th, 2019
Dr. Keyan Riley, a colonel in the Air Force Reserves, is shown working in Afghanistan. Riley has worked alongside UCHealth physicians for a few years.

In music, sports or medicine, the way to perfect a skill is to practice, practice, practice.

In that spirit, military doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists are working alongside UCHealth Memorial Hospital’s doctors and nurses to learn from each other, hone their skills and save lives.

Many American service members alive today who have fought in recent wars would have died in previous wars. That’s thanks to advances in combat medicine, medevac platforms, technology and training – practice.

When our nation’s military doctors and nurses are not in combat, they still need to keep their skills sharp. While Memorial Hospital has worked with the area’s military medical community since 2011, that partnership is expanding to include more physicians, nurses, medics and respiratory therapists. More trauma patients come to Memorial since it is the region’s only Level I Trauma Center, giving military doctors the opportunity to treat a high number of high-acuity patients who have complex, multiple system injuries.

Ron Fitch, vice president of operations and military affairs for UCHealth’s Southern Colorado Region, is spearheading the effort with the military. Fitch served 24 years in the U.S. Army as a Special Forces Officer with deployments to Afghanistan and Latin America, and he was a recent garrison commander at Fort Carson.

“I know the importance of being able to save lives over there,’’ Fitch said. “It’s an honor to provide the opportunity for more training, and we benefit too. They’re bringing our trauma team insight and expertise from combat, so it’s a huge benefit to our community. The partnership here will pay off in big dividends,’’ Fitch said.

An Army medical helicopter lands at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central during a September training exercise.

Dr. Keyan Riley, a colonel in the Air Force Reserves, has worked alongside UCHealth physicians for a few years.

“This gives Air Force surgeons the experience of working in a busy medical center,’’ Riley said. “As a nation, we demand that our military surgeons are always ready to enter a combat zone and provide the best possible care to our injured soldiers. Therefore, there is a tangible benefit to taxpayers when these surgeons take lessons learned in our civilian trauma centers to the battlefield.’’

Military doctors integrate fully into the medical and trauma staffs, allowing them to keep up their skills when not in the trenches.

Army Col. Eric S. Edward, the commander of Evans Army Community Hospital on Fort Carson, said Fort Carson appreciates the medical training agreement with UCHealth.

“This agreement provides a local opportunity to rotate Fort Carson combat medics, critical care nurses, emergency nurses, internists, general surgeons, and orthopedic surgeons, into a Level I Trauma Center that offers complex cases to better prepare us for the deployed environment.

“While this has only just started, this local healthcare partner model has great promise and is another example of a city supporting our military,” Edward said.

In recent years, more troops have survived injuries suffered in combat because of advances in medicine and also the speed in which the injured are transported to field hospitals or medical centers.

“If someone gets injured today, it’s usually with a high-powered rifle or an improvised explosive device, and you need the ability to stabilize that person, get the medevac platform in and get him back to a hospital,’’ Fitch said. “They try to do that in what they call the ‘golden hour,’ which means that from the time they get the call, they pick you up in 30 minutes and you are back at a higher level of care facility within 30 minutes.’’

In the coming weeks, the Air Force will send nurses, more doctors and respiratory therapists to train at Memorial. In wartime, these Air Force personnel work on critical care air transport teams, essentially an intensive care unit in the back of an airplane.

Fort Carson has two surgeons working shifts at Memorial along with nurses who are working in the emergency room and in the ICU. Army medics also may begin working at the hospital.

“The Army is interested in the volume and in having their folks receive additional experience in triage. Memorial has high volume in the emergency department and the Army is interested in putting a little stress on people, to elevate their triage capability,’’ Fitch said.

UCHealth is also offering medics from the 10th Special Forces Group the opportunity to train at the hospital. Those medics have to advance their skills and proficiencies every two years.

“Special Forces medics (green berets) are the equivalent of a physician assistant, and they also have dental and veterinary skills,’’ Fitch said.

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.