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Military culture important for doctors to know

Monday, Nov. 11, 2013 9:17 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 2:20 AM
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It is just three little letters but it can make a big difference in treating a veteran, medical students at Georgia Regents University learned Monday.

“Just asking them what they did, it’s called their MOS, it’s military occupational specialty,” said Dr. Walter Moore, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and senior associate dean for veterans affairs and graduate medical education at Medical College of Georgia at GRU. “And then after you’ve asked them what they did, you could ask them where they’ve served.”

The session Monday with MCG faculty who have served is part of a weeklong event to connect students with veterans and military issues. It is part of a national effort by the Association of American Medical Colleges in recognition of the Joining Forces outreach initiative begun by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden.

Second-year medical student Nora Zeidan got a $500 grant from the AAMC to help fund it. She believes students her age might lack a connection to the military unless it directly affects a family member.

“I don’t have any military connections so it has definitely been a learning experience for me,” Zeidan said. “I think there are a lot of us just because there isn’t necessarily a direct need for individuals my age to enlist that we are probably more disconnected than older generations.”

Understanding military culture is becoming a diversity issue and “is a really important step I think to producing a culturally competent physician workforce,” said Dr. Kimberly Halbur, the associate dean for student and multicultural affairs. “And that is a new piece for us.”

It is not only important in getting at and understanding a patient’s background but can also lead to a better diagnosis, Zeidan said. She is part of a project to add the question of military service to the health system’s electronic health record, which can then lead to further questions about where and when the patient served. If, for instance, the patient presents with a certain type of lung disease and served in the U.S. Navy as a pipefitter, that is an important clue, Moore said.

“The answer to the question of what is causing the lung disease is asbestos,” he said.

It is particularly important for medical students and doctors in Augusta to have this understanding, Zeidan said.

“Especially since we are so close to Fort Gordon, even if we aren’t in the VA we will be dealing with many patients and many family members who have dealt with deployments,” she said. “I think that’s really important just so you can address issues that they don’t bring to a clinic up front. There’s always a backstory to every single patient.”

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