Empowering Professionals, Enhancing Care: Highlights from Day Three at MHS Conference

Dr. Steven Durning stands at a podium next to a slideshow.
Dr. Steven Durning, director of USU's Center for Health Professions Education (CHPE) held a session
introducing participants to USU's HPE program at the MHS Conference in Portland, Oregon. (Photo credit:
Zachary Willis, USU)

April 18, 2024 by Zachary Willis and Hadiyah Brendel

Day three of the Military Health System (MHS) Conference in Portland, Oregon featured diverse sessions addressing critical aspects of healthcare and education within the military medical community, including the Uniformed Services University’s (USU) Health Professions Education program, how coaching strategies can mitigate the pressing issue of burnout, and the importance of women’s health research initiatives.

Build Your Academic Skills: USU’s Health Professions Education Certificates & Degrees

This session, led by Dr. Steven Durning, director of USU’s Center for Health Professions Education (CHPE), focused on introducing participants to the part and full-time certificates and degrees offered by USU’s Health Professions Education (HPE) program.

“It’s open to anyone in the MHS, this is not just for USU,” explained Durning. “Anyone in the Military Health System who is a health professional [can apply.] We define health professional as those that take care of patients in any way, shape or form. So we have physicians, nurses, dentists, physical and occupational therapists, even veterinarians and nutritionists.”

The main goal of the Graduate Programs in HPE, according to CHPE, is to educate practitioners who will serve as academic leaders (e.g., deans, program directors, department heads) and will contribute to the continuous advancement of health professions education, leadership, and research. 

With two certifications and three degrees available, the program utilizes a “stacked” structure to allow one program’s requirements to contribute to the requirements of the next. This is one of the major ways in which the program aims to be flexible for learners.

Durning stressed that the tuition-free graduate programs offered were created with the busy lives of health professionals in mind, with most programs being offered online primarily consisting of asynchronous instruction. 

“In our current class we have over 300 learners in the program,” said Durning. “We have both full and part-time options, the majority of folks are part-time, and they’re in a variety of different leadership roles.”

To learn more about USU’s Health Professions Education (HPE) program, visit this link.

Build Your Academic Skills: USU’s Master of Health Administration & Policy Degree

Navy Cmdr. Hawks with MHAP Program Alumni (class of 2020), Lt. Col. Demarcio Reed, Lt. Col. Reed currently serves as  Commander, U.S. Army Medical Dept.  Activity Director, McDonald Army Health Center, Joint Base Langley Eustis-Fort  Eustis, Virginia. (Photo courtesy of CDR  Hawks).
Navy Cmdr. Hawks with MHAP Program
Alumni (class of 2020), Lt. Col. Demarcio
Reed, Lt. Col. Reed currently serves as 
Commander, U.S. Army Medical Dept. 
Activity Director, McDonald Army Health
Center, Joint Base Langley Eustis-Fort 
Eustis, Virginia. (Photo courtesy of CDR 
Navy Cmdr. Beth Hawks, vice chair for Graduate Programs in USU’s Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics, focused her presentation on the effectiveness of the Master of Health Administration and Policy (MHAP) degree program at USU in educating learners to excel in the field. 

The MHAP program is designed for health professionals interested in executive medicine or growing their knowledge in management science, health policy analysis and evaluation, and policy advising. The program emphasizes the importance of teamwork in projecting medical power to bolster military superiority. 

Hawks highlighted the program’s curriculum, competency development and assessment, career advancement opportunities, and the program’s significance to the MHS.

“While talent is abundant within the Military Health System,” said Hawks, “opportunities for advancement are not always readily accessible. The MHAP program channels this talent to cultivate future senior leaders for the MHS.”

To learn more about USU’s Master of Health Administration & Policy (MHAP) program, visit this link.

Women’s Health Research Initiatives 

Dr. Lynette Hamlin, professor and associate dean for Faculty Affairs in USU’s Graduate School of Nursing and inaugural director of USU’s Military Women’s Health Research Program (MWHRP), delivered a panel overviewing the portfolio of women’s health research done across the MHS.

MWHRP’s mission is to foster research that influences policy and guides best practices for the health care of female active duty service members and veterans. The research initiatives of the program encourages collaboration with clinical partners, policy partners, and practicing clinicians.

Hamlin spoke for the first time about breast cancer research on active duty service members presented to Congress in March of this year. She also discussed MWHRP's role in President Biden’s executive order to advance women’s health research and innovation.  

USU’s MWHRP is tasked with strengthening the coordination, infrastructure, and training to support women’s health research across the DoD. The research program will also develop a women’s research collaborative between the DoD and the VA, to “improve care across the lifespan of women from their military service through to the Veteran’s health administration,” said Hamlin.

Throughout her panel, Hamlin encouraged attendees to reach out to her with their input. “We have great silos of research, I think that’s wonderful. But I think we’ve reached a time where now we need to start collecting those silos. This military research program is not going to be the end-all be-all of research on women's health. My goal is to be the repository,” says Hamlin. 

“Women’s military health research is critical for recruitment and retention,” Hamlin added. She further emphasized the importance of input from others in the MHS on the issues the research program needs to examine. 

Maintaining Capacity Within the MHS to Deliver Level IV/V Care for Combat Casualties

Speakers on the “Maintaining Capacity Within the MHS to Deliver Level IV/V Care for Combat Casualties“ panel discussed the needs and existing gaps in providing care at major Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) in the MHS following reductions in staffing. The staffing reductions are a consequence of the reduced number of casualties presenting within the MHS. Such reductions reduce the MTF’s capacity to meet the definitive surgical, medical, rehabilitative, and behavioral health needs of combat casualties in Role IV facilities. 

Panelists included USU faculty members Army Col. (Dr.) Danielle Holt, associate dean for Admissions and Recruitment and associate professor of Surgery, Dr. Paul Pasquina, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at USU and chief of Rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Army Col. (Dr.) Brad Dengler, director of USU’s Military Traumatic Brain Injury Initiative and assistant professor of Surgery at USU. Dr. Louis French, deputy director of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence and professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR) at USU, also participated as a member on the panel. 

Pictured left to right are Dr. Paul Pasquina, Col. (Dr.) Danielle B. Holt, Col. (Dr.) Brad A. Dengler, and Dr. Louis M. French. (Photo credit: Hadiyah Brendel, USU)
"We want to continue to raise these issues that these [combat casualties] are really complex patients and it takes
a lot to go from the picture on the left to the picture on the right," says Pasquina. Pictured left to right are Dr.
Paul Pasquina, Col. (Dr.) Danielle B. Holt, Col. (Dr.) Brad A. Dengler, and Dr. Louis M. French. (Photo credit:
Hadiyah Brendel, USU) 

Pasquina referenced a video shown by Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Telita Crosland, Defense Health Agency director, in the conference opening plenary session that highlighted Fox news reporter Benjamin Hall’s recovery after experiencing blast trauma in the Ukraine. Imagine, Pasquina said, that type of injury multiplied by 2,000 and that’s what the panelists have worked with over the last 20 years. Then he asked attendees to multiply that number by 10. According to Pasquina, Ukraine anticipates 20,000 individuals with acquired limb loss from trauma according to the latest data. “How are we going to prepare for that?” Pasquina asked. 

He reminded attendees that every single person who loses a limb is going to need lifelong care. “And actually a good sign of rehab outcome is they do break those prostheses. That’s a good thing. They're out there using it. They need new prostheses, they need a new wheelchair over time. We need to be invested in that, not just in the short term but in the long term,” he added. 

Rekindling the Flame: Leveraging Coaching Strategies to Combat Burnout in Medical Students

Though the session came at the end of the conference, the packed audience held tight to their notepads, eager to jot down every word of Dr. Moores’ informative presentation about combatting burnout in medical education.

Mitigation of burnout is a major topic of discussion across the MHS, as healthcare providers and medical students often experience greater feelings of stress and other factors that can relate directly or indirectly to burnout, which has the ability to compromise patient care with increased medical errors.

“Because we focus on the wellness of our patients, we often neglect our own wellness,” said Moores, associate dean for Assessment and Professional Development at USU’s School of Medicine. “And when you look at studies, broadly, about 42% of those in the profession of medicine will screen positive for depression at some point in their career, and about 37% will say that they are experiencing significant burnout.”

Moores went on to add that a recent DHA survey upped the percentage to around 50-55% of those within the MHS experiencing some level of burnout. For medical students specifically, estimated burnout prevalence hovers around 44% at any point in time, with clinical training and third year studies exacerbating burnout to its greatest heights.

Dr. Lisa Moores stands at a podium next to a slideshow.
Dr. Lisa Moores' session focused on leveraging coaching strategies as a way of combatting burnout in medical
students and faculty. (Photo credit: Zachary Willis, USU)

Because of this, the focus of Moores’ presentation centered around the ways in which incorporation of coaching strategies into medical education can mitigate burnout, highlighting the success of USU’s own coaching program as well as multiple studies documenting the efficacy of coaching as an approach.

Moores defined coaching as primarily listening and questioning, with the goal of “trying to help our students become the champions of their own medical education, their own growth.” Additionally, one of the studies highlighted in the session noted improvements in compassion, coping skills, job satisfaction, and overall quality of life as a result of coaching.

Moores added that the School of Medicine aims to move toward “a full embracement of competency-based medical education” – looking at patient and society needs, and evaluating the best way to train students for those competencies so they are ready to be successful in future GME training programs. While she doesn't think this approach is too different from what they have already been doing, Moores says “the key shift isn’t in the competencies as much as recognizing that every student is going to have a different path toward those competencies.”

Continuing, Moores explained that the role of coaching in this new approach is to help medical students learn how to properly reflect. “When you look at the literature on being successful, and that cultural shift towards ‘everybody has a different growth trajectory,’ one of the key components really is that they need coaching. They’re not used to this - they’re not used to looking at their own data and being honest and reflecting on it, or even understanding it.”

The idea, according to Moores, is that by emphasizing individualized support from faculty and a “growth and mastery” mindset, students will “be more willing to look at their own potential areas of weakness, bounce them off of someone they trust, and come up with individualized learning plans.” The thought, Moores explained, is that this would further their professional identity formation and their professional growth.

And while Moores noted that there are concerns about the potential for coaches themselves to experience burnout, she explained that USU already has many proactive approaches in place to keep the wellbeing of faculty coaches in mind, concluding that the program is beloved by both students and faculty.