Trainee health clinic provides care when needed most

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The seven-member staff of the 42nd Medical Group trainee health clinic sees approximately 3,300 patients a year.

Their patients come from very different backgrounds and at very different times in their military careers.

In the summer, there are two months when the clinic is responsible for about 1,500 Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets while they are here for field training. Through the fall and spring, there are the students attending Air Command and Staff College or Air War College. Then there are the students of Officer Training School and the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy who cycle through year round.

The clinic is responsible for any beneficiaries attending training or professional military education at the Air University.

"We are here to serve the training population, with an understanding for the particular needs of this population, such as minimizing missed training days and ensuring graduation rates," said Maj. Jade Spurgeon, 42nd Medical Group trainee health flight commander and preventative medicine physician.

Most of the injuries the clinic sees result from the physical nature of training, though the spread of communicable disease happens faster in a training environment when people are in close quarters for long periods of time, Spurgeon added.

The clinic has recently started a preventative medicine program to increase efficiency and decrease trainee injury and disease. The program is based on a successful program at other bases in Air Education and Training Command.

The basic military training program at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, has a preventative medicine program in place. The program being established at Maxwell is a response to a mandate from the Air Force Surgeon General's office calling for the creation of a similar program.

The medical providers at Lackland examined what happened during each day in the evolution of the BMT cycle and what was being entered into the medical records of each trainee. After three years of gathering data, they developed a baseline standard for disease and injury levels.

"Once you have a baseline, you continue to track the data," Spurgeon said. "If you see a bump of 10 percent or greater, that is something that needs to be investigated, whether it's an illness or a common injury. If all of a sudden the rate of a certain type of illness goes up, they can react quickly, investigate and determine the cause of the increase."

The clinic here has the same goal.

"We are trying to establish what we can do to mitigate injury and illness among the trainee population here," Spurgeon said. "It can be something as simple as determining the need for gloves if people are handling ropes or staying hydrated."

The trainees are often asked to develop a totally different set of skills than they have before, especially in the ROTC and OTS programs, Spurgeon added. This can create mental and emotional challenges in addition to the more obvious physical ones.

"We understand the constraints that the individual patient (trainee) as well as the cadre face when trying to meet all the training requirements," Spurgeon said. "We want to treat the patient as efficiently and expeditiously as possible so that they may resume their training with the least amount of disruption."

Still, some trainees do not seek treatment. Some illnesses or injuries are not initially treated because the trainee wants to finish the program, leading to a worse case than their original injury.

There are some patients that want to "tough it out" and get through with school, the ones who are very "gung-ho" about it, those that are very eager and don't want to be put on a profile, said Hayley Kennedy, 42nd Medical Group nurse practitioner.

"We see a lot of heat illness; we see a lot of blisters, which seem simple but can impact someone's ability to train for a long period of time," Spurgeon said. "It's these little things where the more that we can do to prevent these injuries, then hopefully we will decrease the amount of time they spend out of training.

"The purpose of the clinic is to take care of the trainees so they can focus on their training," she said. "We understand how important their training is. We think it's so important we have an entire team dedicated to taking care of their health. We take that burden from them so that they can focus on their training. I think that is the biggest impact that this program has."