My name is Gary Glauberman, and I am in Vietnam today. I’m looking forward to beginning my work in this country as a Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) coordinator. We just left the Philippines, where I had a hand in setting up many learning and exchange experiences for local Filipino health care workers and USNS Mercy personnel alike.
One memorable event I was involved in was the Calbayog City District Hospital SMEE. Local doctors, nurses and midwives filled the floor of the Calbayog City Convention Center, in the heart of this small city in the central part of the Philippines. As I walked around, I observed USNS Mercy experts demonstrating essential, life-saving skills to their Philippine host nation counterparts. One group, led by a USNS Mercy emergency medical technician (EMT) was practicing chest compressions and rescue breathing, some local nurses learning CPR for their first time. At another table, others were trying on operating room gloves, gown and mask, challenged by USNS Mercy nurse to maintain a “sterile field.” Across the room, a USNS Mercy obstetrician and midwife teamed up to lead Filipino midwives in proper handling of shoulder dystocia emergencies, a common obstetric problem in the area. As co-coordinator of the event, I was excited to see that participants and educators were enjoying themselves, sharing knowledge and laughs, learning from one another.
This event was one of many health education exchanges orchestrated by members of the USNS Mercy Medical SMEE Department, whose role on the Pacific Partnership 2012 mission is to coordinate health education conferences and activities, (called “SMEEs,”) between USNS Mercy experts and their host nation counterparts. The small SMEE team includes a mix of US Navy, Air Force and non-governmental organization (NGO) nurses, nurse educators, graduate nursing students, EMTs and hospital corpsmen from around the country. As a public health nursing instructor, I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of the SMEE team’s work. Empowering health professionals with education and training ultimately leads to a higher quality of care for their home communities.
In order to meet the educational needs of each host country, the SMEE department works closely with host nation representatives and an advanced, in-country planning (ADVON) team, to identify topics of interest. Once we know what issues the host nations wishes to address, we tap into the vast pool of knowledgeable US military, Partner Nation and NGO personnel on board the ship, identifying experts capable of teaching the desired topics through lectures, demonstrations and discussions with their host nation counterparts.
So far, some common SMEE topics we have covered on the PP12 mission have included maternal health and perinatal care; child health and safety; nursing and midwifery skills; prevention and treatment of communicable diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, as well as non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Perhaps our most exciting SMEE topic is disaster preparedness and response. At these events, trainers apply “moulage,” to USNS Mercy personnel, transforming them into victims for disaster triage drills, and the US Navy helicopter pilots drop by, allowing local responders to practice loading patients onto the “helo.”
In addition to coordinating educational conferences, the SMEE team coordinates visits to local health and education facilities, and invites host nation professionals to inform the USNS Mercy personnel on pressing local health issues and learn more about the host nations’ culture and health care infrastructure. For example, in Sangihe, Indonesia, we were invited to a nursing school and hospital to learn how they care for their patients. We also visited their local public health office to collaborate on ways to improve malaria prevention methods. Personally, I have formed a true appreciation and respect for the resiliency of these local providers, who find ways to care for patients in extremely low-resource environments.
There have been many challenges to our work during the Pacific Partnership 2012 mission. As I’ve learned repeatedly, things rarely go as planned. We’ve got lost finding event sites, our audiovisual equipment has failed upon arrival, and agendas had to be shuffled around multiple times to accommodate the work schedule of the participants. At one of our recent Philippine SMEEs, rather than the expected 30 participants, nearly 300 people showed up! Each time, we’ve worked out the problems together with our host nation counterparts, finding solutions through teamwork and flexibility.
The work, despite its challenges, is always rewarding. I know our team’s efforts provide great opportunities for the USNS Mercy experts to share their knowledge, while delivering much needed training and education to host nation health professionals. I feel optimistic that the SMEEs we’ve organized in the Philippines and Indonesia so far, have contributed a lasting, sustainable, positive effect on the overall health status of these countries, and that we will continue to do this great work throughout the remainder of the Pacific Partnership 2012 mission.