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UCHealth partnership gives boost to AFA doctors facing combat

By: tony PECK Special to The Gazette
January 7, 2018 Updated: January 7, 2018 at 4:11 am
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Col. Keyan Riley is shown working in Afghanistan where he treated trauma patients. Riley credits his sucess overseas to a partnership with UCHealth Memorial Hospital that allows military doctors to work in the Emergency Department. (Courtesy Photo)

A six-year-old partnership between the surgeons of the Air Force Academy and UCHealth Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs prepares doctors for combat.

Starting back in 2011, Air Force Academy surgeons have traveled to UCHealth several times a week. There, they work in the hospital's emergency department, performing surgery on trauma patients from around Colorado Springs.

"This is a big part of your job here," said Maj. Justin Koenig, one of the three academy doctors in the program. "It is equally as important as taking care of Tricare beneficiaries."

Koenig estimates that about a quarter of his time is spent at UCHealth performing surgery.

The partnership is essential because there are few hospitals where Air Force surgeons have the chance to operate on trauma patients.

"There are very few places where it makes sense to have a trauma center designated for military personnel," Koenig said.

Army Col. Mary Edwards discussed the consequences of this in an article published in The Journal of the American College of Surgeons. In the article, Edwards said most military surgeons perform on average 131 surgeries a year while their civilian counterparts perform 533 per year.

When asked how many surgeries he performs a year Koenig responded, "Average surgeries in a year here is 250-300, with about a third of them being through the partnership."

That doubles the national average of military surgeons working stateside

The trauma work readies surgeons for their deployments overseas, which are frequent for those stationed at the Air Force Academy.

"For having only three surgeons here, we have one gone at least every other year," Koenig said of their deployment schedule.

"When you are deployed, you don't always have what you have here," he said. "Without the training I have here I wouldn't be as comfortable over there."

Air Force Col. Keyan Riley agrees with Koenig. During his time with the partnership, Riley deployed twice.

"Keeping your head in the game and managing the patient load," he said. "That is where you get the direct correlation."

While surgeons receive pre-deployment training, it requires that they travel to a new hospital and spend most of their time observing techniques used overseas.

The partnership proves a better alternative.

"You don't have to go away some place, you become part of the medical community here," Riley said.

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