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In the Archives: an Oral History Interview (Military Medicine Education & Simulation)

Updated: Apr 23, 2022

23 years ago, I got a phone call from an infectious-disease doctor, Captain Rich Hawkins, US Navy.

"I got your name from Graceanne at Johns Hopkins, where I understand you're doing some work as an SP (standardized patient)." This was true.

He added, "We're opening our own center for the USUHS (military med-school) at Forest Glen, and we need a pilot SP ." He and his then-wife were writing their first case for a mass-casualty disaster exercise on the USNS Comfort.

Happy to be that pilot! (Malaria - complete with simulating voluntarily involuntary chills and tremors. (I was finding my way back to things theatrical and thespian-wise.)

They had labelled this first case, "Malaria Patient." I asked "Do I have a name?"

"Oh. I guess we should give you a name?" They looked at each other. "What name do you want to be?"

Those were early days in a methodology about to burgeon. I worked there from that fall of 1999, when everything - photocopier, computers, exam tables, desks - was still wrapped in plastic, through June of 2007, when they'd already taken over the bowling alley next door and were about to move upstairs to where the arts-and-crafts shop had been.

Ramped up into robust programming for future doctors and grad-level nurses in the Air Force, Army, Navy and Public Health Service. We incorporated bio-terror cases (anthrax, Sarin, smallpox), drove to work with hypervigilance, with a pair of snipers all around. (The helicopters that awakened me, over and over, a year after airplanes plunged into meaning-laden buildings, choppers that signaled "the snipers, they killed another person.")

We provided "Bushmasters" - an annual exercise, yet just after the attacks on 9/11/01, undeliverable when no airplanes could fly. Plus, all kinds of hybrid samplings of clinical, communication, and purely sim-based experiences.

Strange times. As Georgetown's School of Medicine built its own Center, I took a job there, summer of 2007. Still there, and ramped up as well.

A few years ago, an archivist from USUHS (Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences) called to say she'd gotten my name from the current medical director, Dr. Joe Lopreiato. She'd been asked to gather oral histories from people who had some kind of foundational role in the school, and asked if I'd be willing to talk.

Happy to talk, about almost anything.

Emelie came to my house with a tape-recorder, and started asking questions. To harken back to the first days of that flagship Center, before the events of 9/11/01, and before a mandatory licensing step (using SPs) for medical students took effect? Unexpectedly powerful for me. We talked for over 2 hours.

Someone transcribed our living-room conversation and posted it with other oral histories from the early days. If you're interested in 21st-century ways of educating healthcare providers, the transcript link follows.

Things have already changed quite a bit since Emelie and I talked in 2018. A global pandemic, the removal of that very licensing step (!) and questions around medical support in Ukraine, for starters.

Any conversation is a moment in time, within its own hour of history, and memory, and reflection. No pressure to explore any of these, but if you're inclined:

(Shortest post ever!) (If you avoid the transcript!)

Thanks, as always, with more soon, Muffin

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