Critical care: Trauma center’s military personnel are vital team members learning vital lessons at Cooper

When an emergency strikes, trauma is time-critical.

“You need to have a team ready to go. A surgeon in-house, an operating room staff in-house. Blood banks. Nurses that are razor-focused. And not just one, but a few of them, because the wounded don’t come in one at a time,” Cooper University Health Care trauma surgeon Dr. John Chovanes said.

Cooper is one of only three New Jersey state-designated Level I Trauma Centers verified by the American College of Surgeons. It serves as the regional trauma center for southern New Jersey and is one of the busiest trauma centers in the region.

Dr. John Chovanes. (Cooper University Health Care)

Because of its high-volume trauma center and expertise in surgery and critical care, Cooper provides a wide range of military, diplomatic and field affairs training programs. It has amassed a lot of expertise across the institution. Especially when it comes to things regarding critical illness and injury.

“As a Level I Trauma Center and leading academic health system, Cooper is uniquely qualified to provide the hands-on training members of military medical teams need to gain the experience and skills to save lives on battlefields around the world,” Chovanes said.

Chovanes, the founding medical director and chief surgeon of Cooper’s Section of Military, Diplomatic and Field Affairs, and a colonel in the Army Reserve Medical Corps, has seen trauma firsthand. He was among the first responders at the World Trade Center and has completed numerous tours of duty as a trauma surgeon, saving countless lives.

He knows that, when a trauma occurs, minutes count. Cooper University Hospital has all the necessary resources to provide surgical intervention in the critical time of need to reduce the likelihood of death or permanent disability.

“How do you make sure the Army medics or Army nurses and Army surgeons are clinically and intellectually ready to provide aid to the severely wounded? And, when someone is severely wounded, that is a very challenging patient to take care of, especially in a resource-limited environment like a battlefield, a remote island, anywhere that you can’t get supplies in and out.”

Thanks to Chovanes, Cooper University Health Care has one of the most extensive military training programs in the nation. Chovanes was the driving force behind the development of Cooper’s military training programs, including the Army Medical Department Military-Civilian Trauma Team Training, or AMCT3, which provide the highest level of training to military medical corps to ensure they can effectively treat any case they may encounter in connection with their combat deployments. Cooper provide specialized medical training to active duty and reserve personnel from all branches of the U.S. military as part of the SMART, Strategic Medical Asset Readiness Training, initiative. SMART was developed by the Army Medical Command as part of an effort to establish a national network of civilian health care facilities to train and sustain medical skills of the enlisted medical workforce.

The program is the result of a 2017 congressional mandate aimed at advancing the Military Health System trauma readiness for deployment to combat zones around the globe by partnering with high-volume civilian trauma centers to gain critical teamwork and technical trauma skills.

“It was just by happenstance that I was a trauma surgeon here at Cooper, and it just kind of dawned on me to partner the Army with a busy, established civilian site like Cooper to help keep soldiers at the ready,” he said

Maintaining that readiness is a big challenge to military medicine, Chovanes says.

Under the program, an Army surgeon, an emergency medicine physician, a nurse anesthetist, an intensive care nurse and an emergency nurse are fully embedded members of the Cooper clinical staff to obtain firsthand training at Cooper’s high-volume, high-acuity trauma center. In addition, the program also includes clinical rotations with Cooper’s Trauma ICU, Psychiatry, Emergency Department, Labor & Delivery, Operating Room, Anesthesia, Pediatric Emergency Department, Orthopaedic Trauma, Family Medicine, Infectious Diseases and Cooper’s EMS, which serves the city of Camden.

Cooper is the only hospital in the U.S. that has trained elite medical providers from every military branch, multiple local, state and federal government agencies, and international partners.

“We would like to help replicate this and teach other hospitals in the county how to do this, because I think that this is a model that could be emulated throughout the continental United States at the right hospital,” said Chavones.

“There needs to be many key things — that senior leadership desire, a strong faculty and experienced staff and nurses. All those things. We have legislative support. You have to have a lot of factors in the place to be a genuine program and not just to be, in my opinion, a marquee program that just hangs a sign that says ‘Thank you for your service,’” Chovanes said.

“Our armed personnel from the military are intimately involved in caring for the sickest and the most injured in all of New Jersey — we do that in a very collaborative manner. We are very proud of these programs, and I would hope will look to grow them and refine them. Other companies can then start to see that we have interesting job opportunities, especially for research.”

What’s involved

Cooper’s military programs include:

  • Special Operations Combat Medic Training Program: Cooper is one of only five hospitals nationally that provides training to Special Operations Combat Medics, or SOCM, from the military’s Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, which includes Army and Navy enlisted service members who hold, or are designated for assignment to a special-operations medical position.
  • Military Trauma Readiness Program: A unique collaborative agreement between multiple Department of Defense units and Cooper to help military medical personnel maintain their trauma, emergency medicine and critical care skill by being immersed in an intense clinical setting.
  • State Department Guardian Emergency Management Specialist: A program for physicians, physician assistants, paramedics and civil service employees with dual roles as regional contingency planners and direct medical support teams from the Office of Mobile Security Deployments or the Secretary of State’s Protective Detail. These very experienced health care providers come to Cooper for trauma skills sustainment training.
  • Cooper Advanced Trauma Training Course: An intense medical training program that concentrates on the development and honing of critical trauma resuscitation and surgical skills for physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses and military noncommissioned officers with a practice working knowledge of dealing with severely injured patients in any environment (combat, mass shootings, severe noncombat injuries, etc.). CATTC encourages the transfer of knowledge between military and the civilian trauma/medical community.

Cooper also has wide range of programs geared toward expanding health care access to active military, veterans, family members and first responders.