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Universal language of medicine unites National Guard and partner forces at Rush University

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Melissa Escobar-Pereira, Joint Force Headquarters-Public Affairs, Colorado National Guard

CHICAGO, IL -- In a world marked by divisions and obstacles created by language barriers and cultural differences, medicine serves as a universal language that transcends boundaries.

Given the opportunity to speak the language of medicine, members of the Colorado National Guard, Ohio National Guard, Slovenian Armed Forces, Jordanian Armed Forces, United Kingdom Royal Air Force, and other U.S. military personnel came together for an International Advanced Surgical Training Course at Rush University, Chicago, in September 2023.

"This knowledge exchange and training is intended to strengthen surgical capabilities and interoperability through multi-national collaboration,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Elizabeth Gray, commander, 140th Medical Support Squadron, said.

The 5-day event was the first of its kind, made possible through the funding provided by the 2023 Defense Appropriations Bill. It brought together a diverse assembly of surgeons, emergency medicine physicians, and operating room nurses for an advanced surgical training course that transcended borders and fostered international collaboration.

The training course enhances the ability of medical professionals to work seamlessly with colleagues from different nations, especially in the challenging realm of combat medicine where such collaboration can be a matter of life and death for wounded service members.

The Republic of Slovenia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan partner with the Colorado National Guard as part of the National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. Under the SPP, the U.S. Department of Defense pairs National Guard units from U.S. states with partner countries worldwide to build U.S. and partner capabilities that meet 21st century security challenges.

“The importance of a course like this is on two fronts: the first front is civilian-to-military medical partnerships, and the second is from a global health perspective, as it relates to the State Partnership Program.” U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jill K. Faris, director, National Guard Bureau Joint Surgeons Office, said. “A time when there is a crisis shouldn’t be the time when we first work together. That should be when we reinforce our joint comfort and experience to work side by side.”

“It was great to see military medical professionals from the U.S., U.K., Jordan, and Slovenia all working together. Each had different strengths and weaknesses, and they were able to learn from each other,” Gray said.

The program covered cutting-edge trauma procedures and advanced surgical practices not commonly found in routine surgical practice but relevant to combat situations. Regardless of their origins, these medical professionals shared the goal of strengthening their surgical skills to save more lives.

“Medicine is an international language,” Faris said. “Medicine does all kinds of things to stabilize a country.  To make people feel whole, happy, and welcome.”

The Rush University course was a unique opportunity to forge both theoretical and practical knowledge in advanced surgical techniques while also strengthening international bonds of trust and cooperation. It was not just an academic endeavor but an exercise in building connections and alliances that could save lives in challenging circumstances.

“Leveraging programs like this helps expand the global partnership of the SPP and defines what we can do with global health engagement,” Faris said.