By 1st Lt Nadine Suh, 22nd MDSS
/ Published November 15, 2016
As a LEAP scholar, 1st Lt Nadine Suh traveled to Germany where she was able to work as a Medical Service Corps officer and improve her language skills.
In October 2016, I received the unique opportunity to spend four weeks at the largest Bundeswehr (Armed Forces of Germany) hospital as part of the Air Force’s Language Enabled Airmen Program (LEAP). This rare opportunity not only allowed me to practice my language skill, but I was also able to learn about a foreign military’s medical service, hospital administration, and their national health care system, all while building partnerships.
LEAP is managed by the Air Force Culture and Language Center (AFCLC) and helps Airmen sustain and improve their language skill and cultural competence through online classes, in-country immersions and CONUS training opportunities. Airmen across all AFSCs with certain levels of proficiency in a foreign language can submit an application for LEAP. Additionally, as a LEAP participant, one can qualify for a special experience identifier and even receive language pay depending on the language one speaks.
My first step to becoming a LEAP member was to complete the Defense Language Proficiency Test. Soon after I was accepted into the program, I completed an eMentor class, which was a two week online language course. Based on my performance, I qualified for an advanced OCONUS Language Intensive Training Event (LITE). AFCLC took my language proficiency level, prior cultural experience, and AFSC into consideration when finding the right type of immersion that would promote maximum growth and learning as a German speaker and a Medical Service Corps officer. I was extremely excited and honored to then be sent to the Bundeswehrzentralkrankenhaus (BwZKrhs) in Koblenz, Germany.
The BwZKrh is located in central Germany where the rivers Rhine and Moselle confluence. Founded in 1957, the hospital was purchased by the German ministry of defense from the French military. Today, the inpatient facility has 506 beds, 19 specialty and 13 ancillary services, and a trauma and emergency care center. What’s unique about the hospital is that almost 80% of the patients are civilians (non-military affiliated). The hospital employs a total of 1,626 personnel of which 971 are active duty with a clinical staff of 430 providers and 497 nurses. Last year, the hospital counted 14,800 outpatient visits, 84,000 inpatient stays and 16,000 emergency department admissions.
During my four weeks there, I was assigned to the military support unit, the “Stabsgruppe” which provides military and administrative support to the hospital. The Stabsgruppe, similar to our squadron, is comprised of five functional areas including human resources/education and training, medical readiness, security, IT/IM, and logistics. From day one, I was included in the busy day to day operations which is exactly what I wanted to experience. This included learning their military rank structure, customs and courtesies, attending leadership meetings, competing for a physical fitness badge, touring the lab/radiology/sterilization center, experiencing an officer promotion ceremony, and spending a day accompanying an emergency first responder crew. I also was part of discussions to prepare BwZKrh for a massive EUR 325 million renovation and expansion project, scheduled to be completed by 2028. Moreover, I learned how the facility’s energy and water supply is managed and toured their automated goods delivery system that includes an elaborate underground infrastructure.
As a current Resource Management Flight Commander and prior TOPA experience, I also enjoyed spending time learning the hospital’s patient admission and manpower authorization/assignment processes and its billing and reimbursement system. It was quite eye opening to hear of BwZKrh’s evolution from fixed daily rate billing to present-day ICD-10 coding.
At the time of my visit, the hospital was preparing for their Joint Commission Intl. (JCI) re-certification, which meant I saw first-hand how JCI philosophy was promoted among the staff. Over the past year, I’ve acquired much knowledge about trusted care, patient safety, and our own TJC preparation efforts at McConnell AFB. Thus, it was extremely interesting for me to see them speak the same “medical” language on how they cope/address with challenges of implementing standards.
All in all, there was a lot to take in, but this experience has been invaluable and eye-opening for me. I have become an advocate of the LEAP program because I believe it’s essential to train members in other languages and understand cultural differences in order to build successful partnerships and accomplish our mission in other countries.
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