Written by Staff Sgt. Barbara Ospina
5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Public Affairs
Fort Campbell, KY – In an emergency room or a hospital you will find a group of people who all have one thing in common; they need medical care. The level of care might range from a common cold, to a broken bone or life threatening trauma.
Our society has not only grown to rely on, but also to trust in our medical system and the care provided, whether it is a medic on an ambulance or by doctors in the emergency room.In a traumatic situation the unknown can be troubling, stressful and frightening. Imagine sitting in an emergency room after your loved one has suffered a traumatic life threatening injury, their life resting in the hands of the doctors and nurses tending to them. You feel helpless. Minutes seem like hours.
Patients are tended to and leave before you even speak to a doctor. Your imagination runs rampant creating even more uncertainty in your mind. A glimpse of hope surfaces as a doctor approaches. His or her words determine your level of happiness, hope, sadness or grief.
Reflecting on that moment, you realize how quickly a few words from a trusted source provides some peace of mind. This is not always the case.
The U.S. is home to many different nationalities and languages. If you have never traveled to another country you may not realize how isolating and lonely it could be to not speak the native language or understand their culture. Reassurance from a doctor or nurse, regardless of how fleeting the conversation may be, can be critical to the overall mindset of the patient, family and friends.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, has assets available to assist in these exact situations. They utilize an interpreter service that supports nearly every language available by phone when needed. Although this tool proves useful and aides in necessary communication to a patient and or family, it takes roughly twice as long and lacks the sentiment of a routine face-to-face conversation.
In a hospital environment the quality of care provided to the patient as well as the family can rely simply on the ability to communicate.
“Communication definitely helps with patient and family satisfaction,” stated Dr. Timothy Nunez, a doctor with the Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care at VUMC.
This was very evident when a 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Medical Sergeant proved to be an asset not just in the medical field but in his language ability as well.
Sergeant 1st Class David Krug took part in a four week training program with Vanderbilt University Medical Center as part of an overarching medical training program established by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
Throughout his four weeks of training at VUMC Krug was exposed to and trained in various areas of care such as anesthesia, the sick unit, the burn unit, and trauma. He was also allowed to observe and assist in several surgeries. Every aspect of the training program was designed to maintain or increase his medical skills and knowledge.
Krug worked and accompanied doctors in the intensive care and critical care units. On one particular day Krug overheard a physician attempting to converse with the family of a critical patient. The patient had suffered trauma in an automobile accident and was severely injured. Krug immediately recognized that the family member was speaking Arabic and seemed frustrated by the inability to communicate with the medical staff.
He approached the group and introduced himself in the man’s native language. This not only helped breach the language barrier but brought some much needed comfort to the family. Krug’s proficient language capability in Arabic and Persian Farsi made it possible to translate on the spot and allowed face to face dialogue with the concerned family member.
“Clearly having someone speak your language can bring comfort,” said Dr. Kaushik Mukherjee, a doctor with the Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care at VUMC as well as a doctor who Krug worked with and learned from during his time there. “His unique ability helped the staff communicate with the family.”
According to Mukherjee, when working in the trauma units you do not have the luxury of building a relationship with your patient or their family members before you meet them. So the small daily conversations with the families of patients in the critical care unit tend to mean a lot. Even the brief cordial exchange during daily rounds helps build a relationship with the family and bring them reassurance.
“Krug’s language ability helped make those small conversations possible,” Mukherjee commented. “You don’t always have time to get a phone with an interpreter just to check and see how a family is doing.”
As a Special Forces Soldier Krug is required to learn and maintain a language skill. The 5th SFG (A) focuses primarily on the Middle East with a heavy emphasis on the Arabic language. This language capability allows for Special Forces Soldiers to not only communicate but build rapport within the countries they work.
The 5th SFG (A) Green Berets go through an intensive language program designed to increase their listening, comprehension and speaking proficiency. They are assessed by an oral proficiency interview which determines their language ability. Each Soldier on average logs more than 750 hours of classroom and out-of-classroom language and cultural training while in the program.
On average the unit’s language facility trains and certifies more than 500 Green Berets annually in the core languages of Arabic, Persian Farsi, Russian and Dari/Pashtu. Improving a Soldier’s language proficiency enhances the capability of the unit.
This training may not be as attractive as the Hollywood depiction of adrenaline-filled combat action, but it is an invaluable skill and a skill that can prove imperative in a foreign country, or just bring comfort and understanding to someone who needs it regardless of location.