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NEWS | June 10, 2020

Despite COVID-19 setbacks, Veterinary Corps interns create training legacy

By Amber Kurka Public Health Command-Pacific

Close your eyes and imagine you are a military working dog handler on patrol with your team during a deployment.

Suddenly, you and your canine come under small arms fire. Your teammates are able to neutralize the threat, but you notice your canine has sustained injuries. Moving quickly, you are able to get your dog to a medical team, but there isn’t a veterinarian on the team.

What will happen to your military working dog?

For the last year, this is a scenario four Public Health Activity-Fort Lewis veterinary interns have been working to solve in their capstone project for the First-Year Graduate Veterinary Education program, also known as FYGVE.

“The FYGVE program is essentially an internship year for new veterinary graduates,” explained Capt. Galina Pate, a U.S. Army Veterinary Corps FYGVE intern with PHA-FL. “During this program, we rotate through different areas that we will be working in as Army veterinarians.”

While the goal of the FYGVE program is to make sure veterinary officers learn the same baseline knowledge, each of the seven FYGVE locations across the Army enterprise run things a little differently and maintain different traditions.

“Our location has the tradition of putting on an all-encompassing capstone project at the end of the year,” explained Pate. “The reason behind having a capstone project is to leave behind a lasting impact that makes our unit better than how we found it. We also use it as an opportunity to showcase skills and concepts we learned throughout the year.”

For this year’s capstone project the team wanted to focus on the human and animal components of the One Health concept.

The One Health concept promotes a mindset that human health, animal health, and environmental health are interconnected and part of a whole rather than independent sub-components.

“One Health promotes the idea that physicians and veterinarians can work together in order to improve the health and wellbeing of people and animals,” explained Capt. Christina Petersen, another FYGVE intern with PHA-FL. “One really great way we can do that is by training human health care providers to help save military working dogs.”

Petersen explained that in a deployed location there are often more human health care providers than veterinarians, and that it is more likely a human health care provider will see an injured military working dog before the animal reaches a veterinarian.

“We can save many lives by providing collaborative training to human care providers before they go downrange,” explained Petersen. “The wellbeing of military working dogs goes hand-in-hand with keeping Soldiers safe downrange.”

With this collaborative focus, the team worked to develop a project that could be executed alongside their human health care counterparts at Madigan Army Medical Center.

“Every year, the graduate medical education program at Madigan has a capstone event,” said Pate. “This year they were supposed to have a very large field operation with a series of trauma lanes. Because the military working dog trauma lanes were very successful during the Best Medic Competition, they had requested our participation.”

The intern teams partnered together to plan out the hands-on portion of their capstone projects. As the date for these capstones approached, the interns were forced to pivot as COVID-19 took hold of the world and nation.

“Once we went to telework, we realized we were no longer going to be able to provide this training in-person,” said Pate. “Failure wasn’t an option; we had to follow through with the capstone.”

Like many people throughout the world, the FYGVE interns began to find ways to adapt to the situation.

“As military officers, we have to be adaptable, since it is essential to mission readiness,” explained Pate. “So we had to come up with something different that would work in a virtual environment.”

Determined to still meet their project deadline, the interns went to work revamping their yearlong project.

On the day of the capstone presentation, Soldiers and Public Health Command-Pacific personnel throughout the region dialed-in to observe the virtual event.

Armed with countless hours of research, a comprehensive training presentation, medical scenarios, score cards, and determination, the FYGVE interns executed their proof of concept Canine Tactical Combat Casualty Care training for human health care providers.

“We were able to adapt to the changes that COVID-19 forced us to make and delivered a valuable product,” said Pate. “This project can be taught by our fellow Veterinary Corps officers and the next FYGVE class, and hopefully next year they can do the in-person training that we had wanted to do.”

Despite setbacks from COVID-19 and having to readjust their entire capstone project, the FYGVE interns from PHA-FL embodied the PHC-P credo of “100/0!” which means 100 percent accountability and responsibility and zero excuses for not giving their best every day.

As the interns get ready to move on to their first assignments, they leave behind a legacy for future FYGVE interns and Veterinary Corps officers.

“We are really proud that we were able to achieve what we set out to do,” said Petersen. “We are excited about this legacy, and how these tools can be implemented throughout the activity and the Veterinary Corps to help save the lives of military working dogs.”