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USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy

Discussion in 'Military Medicine' started by Felzor, Mar 14, 2007.

  1. Felzor

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    Disclaimer: I am a pre-med student with both limited knowledge of the medical profession in its various disciplines and military service in general. The extent of my information comes from my father, an M.D., and two close Army ROTC friends of mine at the university. Don't laugh in my face or be preachy, just give me some honest and polite answers and opinions. No doubt my preferences will change in the upcoming months and years anyway.

    Okay, to the meat. One day I hope to be a doctor (of unknown specialty). My motivations? The financial security is nice but mostly it's humanitarian. I like to help people and learn about the larger human condition. I like a little adventure (i.e. learning Arabic at the moment), so never thought I would just get married one day and enter private practice in a nice nuclear household with 2.1 kids. I imagined that I would join Doctors without Borders, or at least travel to developing countries a few times a year to do humanitarian aid work.

    My ROTC buddies have piqued my interest in the military. Obviously I (and they) know that I don't want to kill people, am not *gung-ho* patriotic, and aren't into the usual, stereotypical manly things (guns, porn, red meat). But when I heard about the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy traveling around the world--treating U.S. and enemy soldiers while going on humanitarian missions--I had to look into it further.

    So basically I'm wondering: Hypothetically, one day far into the future I leave residency and am dissatisfied with starting my own practice. If I joined the Navy, how much choice as an officer do I have in choosing where I want to be stationed (USNS Comfort/Mercy)? Or will this choice only come after X years of service? The idea of traveling the world while helping to save American and others' lives, learn about foreign cultures and languages, while sailing the open seas, is a appealing one. Has anybody ever thought about this? Am I idealizing and romanticizing this too much or am I on the dot? :thumbup:

    Thanks in advance.

    Edit: Fixed.
     
  2. orbitsurgMD

    orbitsurgMD Senior Member
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    First of all, you mean "gung-ho" [/PEDANTISM]

    Mercy/Comfort are not generally permanent commands except for the crew that sails them. The medical staff is deployed to these ships from their permanent billets, usually from Naval hospitals on each coast. They only go to the ship when ordered and mobilized, usually in anticipation of USMC combat operations in locations where a land-based mobile hospital is not available. How long these vessels will remain afloat is anybody's guess, but given that they are expensive to maintain and generally don't spend much time treating patients, my guess is they won't be around too much longer. Casualties are stabilized on mobile land facilities and air evacuated by the Air Force or are treated by the medical staff on assault ships like the Iwo Jima which is capable of providing full OR services and can handle high-volume aircraft launch and recovery. The era of the large hospital ship in a useful combat-support role has passed, along with the battleship. Most of the missions of Comfort/Mercy are disaster relief and not in support of combat. So sooner or later they will be mothballed/scrapped. They just don't fulfill a significant military mission, and when deployed, tie up a lot of personnel who don't do very much.

    So the short answer is don't count on it. If you want to go into medicine to do humanitarian relief work, join MSF, not the military.
     
  3. i want out

    i want out Member
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    Even if you are assigned to one of the hospital ships as your deployment platform, you are more likely to find yourself in the desert as an individual augmentee to some thrown together group that is essentially providing the same broken medicine that Walter Reed is in trouble for.


    i want out
     
  4. OP
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    Felzor

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    Well sure... I never imagined the care would be excellent when you're dealing with humanitarian crises or wartime aid. I understand all the cynicism on this site but I thought the assumption was that military medicine would be challenging, sub-par, and at times even improvisational. Maybe I'm watching too much TV.

    I mean, my conception of military medicine is that it's MSF (inadequate equipment and care, long work days, some risk), but at least it's not me alone riding a jeep somewhere with a ragtag team of security guards in an unknown village. With the Navy I have an entire military to back me up and at least some modern equipment, as well as the other obvious financial perks and a rank. In either case, it is disappointing to hear that I can't choose Mercy or Comfort.

    So please, slap some sense into me! Debunk these myths!
     
  5. The White Coat Investor

    The White Coat Investor Practicing Doc and Blogger
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  6. OP
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    Felzor

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    Ah, that won't do. You haven't convinced me that there's a problem here, only that your personality type is incompatible with the military. Rank, pay, I don't care. What about adventure? Traveling the world? Meeting new people? That's what I mean by romantic/idealist, not the rank.

    More. Thanks.
     
  7. BigNavyPedsGuy

    BigNavyPedsGuy Junior Member
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    So, I joined HPSP and since I've started medical school my career plans have shifted. I want to do pediatrics and then Infectious Disease so I can do exactly the type of work your talking about. One catch- the Navy has only let 3 people do peds ID fellowships in the last 18 years! :mad:

    So, my new plan is to do my Navy time then a fellowship and then get to the Humanitarian work. The Navy does do Humanitarian work, but they exist to fight wars. That's what they do. If you want to do Humanitarian work, then don't join the military. Even if you do get to do some, it will only be a few months out of several years committment.

    If this advice won't work for you then nothing will. I want to do exactly what you're describing, but I can't in the military
     
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  8. orbitsurgMD

    orbitsurgMD Senior Member
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    Are you in medical school or at least accepted to one?

    Sure, you can "see the world", if your unit is one that travels the world. But you get assignments to billets that last two years or more, so you get to go where they go, only if they go. You do not get to elect to go elsewhere without them, generally. If you are part of a hospital staff that is assigned to staff a hospital ship, then you would mobilize there if ordered.

    Your personality type or that of anyone else is irrelevant.
     
  9. 46&2

    46&2 Member
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    You're going to get flamed and you deserve it.

    While you preface your post by professing your ignorance ("pre-med" student), that does not excuse you from insulting Desparado, who actually IS an active duty military physician who IS serving his country.

    Your attitude does not fit the military at all. The military is about respect and taking order. Both require humility and at times masochistic tendencies. I know I have enough trouble with it.

    I joined for adventure and to help people. So what did happen?

    Adventure- Most of my 4 years quasi-active duty sitting on my keyster listening to power point briefings on the dangers of alcohol, sexual harrassment, water intoxication, etc. Once a summer I did something vaguely 'cool' like jump or survival school. Overall, I felt I atrophied. Things probably won't get better when you're a physician. I say this after 3 months at two AF bases. Your skills are either underused or stuck in a highly paperwork driven clinic. Watch Office Space. It's not a comedy, it's real.

    Traveling- Military residents don't deploy. Your ends would be better served by a civilian residency who (a) dedicates time (usually a month) to humanitarian missions (b) has facilities near underserved populations (i.e. south Texas) or (c) will give you a year to do whatever you want.

    Others on the forum know more about Iraq, but we'll probably be out of there by the time you can help. Mostly, you're dealing with a fit populace in CONUS, Europe, Korea, or a ship. You might have fun with fighter pilots of the Marines, but it's not a humanitarian crisis. Knew a surgeon attached to the SEALs for a few months- maybe did two minor operations.

    If a major humanitarian disaster does occur, you'll probably be too late to be deployed effectively and/or encounter a hostile populace. That's what what happened to the (Mercy or Comfort- big, slow ships) when it tried to help after the Indonesian tsunami. They did help, but the NGOs got their quicker. Some of the Muslims did not want U.S. help, either. And sometimes you go overseas, there are sick people, and you're not allowed to help them. Happened to a US Navy surgeon sent to Bolivia. He wasn't busy by any means as he was attached to some healthy Marines.

    Other humanitarian efforts? Well, sometimes physicians do got a week or two in Latin American or Southeast Asia to do surgical procedures. You may have to blow your vacation time on that. If anything, the military will prevent you from going overseas of your own accord. They want you treating soldiers. They don't want a PR debacle if you get hurt or hurt someone. They do not give a damn about your plans. Repeat that three times.

    Meeting new people- You wanna meet new people, go on match.com. Unless you like testosterone pumped young males. Like everywhere else, some people are great, some are psychos, some are both. If you're a straight male deployed overseas, however, other needs will start to drive you nuts.

    Assuming you meant foreign nationals, how valuable are you if you can't even speak the same language? You're playing with Arabic. I minored in it. It's one of the hardest lingos in the world, and hell, I've forgotten most of my al luga al-aribyia. I spent a month in North Africa. It takes time and understanding to develop a relationship.

    I used to think exactly like you. I had a full ride to several schools, so I didn't need the money. I don't want to be a desk flying O-6, either.

    If you want to help people, go to the U.S.-Mexico border or New Orleans. If you want romance/idealism (e.g. depression), read War Hospital, The Dressing Station, or join MSF. If you want to be a military officer, join the military. Apologies for the long post, but I made the same mistake.

    Peace out, Napoleon.
     
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  10. OP
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    Felzor

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    Awesome. That's exactly what I wanted to hear. Thanks for the lengthy post. (and no i'm not being sarcastic).

    Would anybody else like to contribute?
     
  11. R-Me-Doc

    R-Me-Doc Now an X-R-Me-Doc
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    You will probably find way more adventure and/or humanitarian opportunities by working with organizations like Drs w/o Borders or even by linking up with church groups that organize humanitarian missions than you will by joining the military. I know more Drs who got to do overseas humanitarian trips as civilians than I ever met in the military.

    Let me add a story about one "humanitarian" experience in the Army. Right after hurricane Katrina, a number of docs, nurses, etc at my hospital were called up on short notice (some even yanked back to base from out-of-state vacations) and shipped off to a staging area, I believe at Ft Bragg. Then they sat there for 2 to 4 weeks. Never even got near Louisiana. Then they came home. Nice efficient use of personnel, huh? Just another Army clusterfnck.

    X-RMD
     
  12. The White Coat Investor

    The White Coat Investor Practicing Doc and Blogger
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  13. The White Coat Investor

    The White Coat Investor Practicing Doc and Blogger
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