The Air Force’s Keesler Medical Center surgical residency program in Mississippi has returned to the arena of joint military service with Navy Medicine in Northwest Florida since 2005 with the first of four, 6-week rotations having been completed at Naval Hospital Pensacola, Fla., in February.
The return of the surgical residency rotation to the Family Medicine teaching hospital in Northwest Florida follows a nearly 4-year absence following the 2005 destructive forces of Hurricane Katrina that shut down the Biloxi, Miss., Air Force facility and scattered surgical residents throughout the country.
“There are a number of advantages for both the surgical residents and general surgery staff here at the Navy hospital,” said Navy Surgeon, Capt. Joseph DeFeo, local program director for the Air Force residents.
“There’s lots of patients … as many as 10 (surgical cases) a week for a total of about 60 … which is probably more than they’d be getting at Keesler,” said the board certified general surgeon from Philadelphia, Pa., and it will “keep the surgical staff on our toes, too … having to think currently in a teaching role.”
NH Pensacola has been a Navy-renown Family Medicine Residency teaching hospital since 1972.
Brigadier General (Dr.) Dan Wyman, Keesler’s 81st Medical Group commander in Biloxi, Miss., said that “the return of Keesler Medical Center surgical residents to Naval Hospital Pensacola marks another milestone in Keesler’s come back to pre-Katrina operations.
“It also exemplified the spirit of cooperation between the two services,” he continued. “We look forward to continuing this partnership and the benefits it provides to both medical centers.”
The addition of the surgical residency will “upgrade the functions of training residents,” said Navy Surgeon, Capt. DeFeo, “from a camaraderie perspective, to giving both of us joint (military training) exposure.”
The first of the Air Force surgical residents, Capt. Charles Woodham, just completed his 6-week rotation at NH Pensacola.
“My rotation at Naval Hospital Pensacola has, to this point, been my best operative experience as a surgical resident. Due to the way the rotation is set up, I was able to perform more surgeries, in a shorter period of time, than any other rotation to this point in my program.
“I found that the surgical staff (was) all extremely open, and excited, about my being there,” the Fayetteville, Ga., native continued.
The entire hospital staff … “many (of whom) went out of their way to try and make my first rotation there a success … (and) took it upon themselves to provide multiple learning opportunities through oral examinations in an effort to help start my preparation for the oral boards that I will be required to take after I finish residency,” the St. Louis University School of Medicine graduate said.
“As an Air Force officer, I was greeted with respect and openness.”
The Air Force surgical residency program at Pensacola was started in 1995 and restarted – following a drought caused by Hurricane Katrina – in January 2009 with the assistance of recently retired Navy Surgeon, Capt. John Perciballi, a highly-respective combat surgeon from Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Major (Dr.) Valerie Pruitt, head of Keesler’s General Surgery Residency program since August 2008.
“We met with the people at Keesler to establish the program and it worked well … until Katrina,” Perciballi said. NH Pensacola is a “nice community-size hospital that can give plenty of ‘bread-and-butter’ surgeries to the residents they can’t get at larger military medical facilities.”
Maj. Pruitt, who was an Air Force surgical resident that did rotations at NH Pensacola between 1997 and 2002 is excited about the residents resuming the “tradition of working with the Navy attending surgeons” at Pensacola.
By re-engaging the Navy hospital into the Keesler Medical Center general surgery residency program, “we are creating a joint service training platform … (that) “truly promotes a joint environment and will lead to betterment of medical support to the war-fighter. It is imperative our residents learn early in their careers how to interact with all branch's of the service,” she continued.
“It was one of my favorite rotations as a resident and it seems like Capt. Woodham was happy with the experience he had 10 years after mine,” said the Louisville, Ky., native and UL medical school graduate.
The current Air Force surgical resident onboard the Pensacola hospital is Capt. Chad “Bulldog” Edwards – a former flight paramedic who earned his “call sign” not because of his connections to the University of Georgia and its mascot, but because of his short hair “and lumpy head … like a bulldog.”
The West Georgia native joined on the surgical residency program at Pensacola in February following completion of a clinical research fellowship at Keesler AFB last year in his General Surgery training.
“The experience has been outstanding, said the Mercer (Ga.) University School of Medical graduate.
“The willingness of the staff surgeons to help at every step has been amazing. Each attending surgeon takes time to help with every facet of surgical care,” he explained.
“Through their insight from years of practice, I feel that each case provides so much more than mere operative experience. My time here will have a positive and life-long influence on the way that I will practice surgery.”
Edwards completed his General Surgery internship at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and was commissioned into the Air Force this month (February) in 2001.
“I’m a civilian pilot (but) never really considered flying in the military,” the Bremen, Ga., native continued. “It’s through surgery that I support the (military) mission at home and abroad.”
By Rod Duren, Naval Hospital Pensacola, Fla.
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