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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. Army doctors, physician assistants, nurses and medical service corps soldiers from throughout South Korea are converging at the Dragon Hill Lodge this week because where they work, it isn’t enough for them to know their jobs. They have to know parts of everyone else’s, too.

That’s how they tackle their biggest challenge: conquering the tyranny of distance.

One main hospital — the 121st at Yongsan Garrison — serves scattered troop medical clinics and battalion aid stations throughout a country the size of Indiana. An injured person can be far from the help he or she needs — particularly a specialist’s care.

This leaves doctors at clinics who must do first-line treatment that may be crucial to how patients recover. At this week’s 38th Parallel Medical Conference, they’re learning about each other’s jobs and specific medical treatments, said Maj. William J. Nieding, program director.

Specialty doctors at the 121st Hospital do a tremendous amount of telephone consultations with doctors at the outlying clinics, said Maj. Gary Fleischer, chief of the surgery department and an orthopedic surgeon. But part of the challenge is ensuring general medical officers — who are general practitioners — know specialists’ common treatment terminology.

For instance, when an orthopedic surgeon gives phone advice on how to treat an injury — such as using a specific kind of splint to brace a wound before a specialist takes over — the health-care person on the other end of the line needs to know the surgeon’s terminology, Fleischer said. Those clinic and aid station personnel are “our first line of defense,” he said.

So medical officers from Army, Navy and Air Force facilities around the Pacific are conducting seminars in a range of fields, such as sports medicine, urology and reaction to biological and chemical attacks, he said.

Those at the clinic also get credit for attending courses often required to maintain certification in their fields.

This may be particularly helpful for medical personnel stationed overseas. They often find attending conferences difficult, said Maj. John Tis, an orthopedic physician at the 121st Hospital. Stateside conferences require too much travel time and those held elsewhere often are presented in other languages.

The South Korea conference “is really valuable because it kind of gives them a chance to do additional training,” Tis said. The conference’s theme this year is “Military Medicine on Freedom’s Frontier.” The first such session was held 53 years ago, during the Korean War’s early days, for medical professionals to discuss common care problems.

Fleischer said the conference helps ensure medical personnel have a “wide variety of baseline knowledge” in a variety of fields. “It’s all about establishing that level of confidence in the outlying providers.”

Lt. Col. Ronald E. Smith, commander of the 168th Medical Battalion, is in charge of 11 clinics and three battalion aid stations outside the 2nd Infantry Division. Their focus, he said, is on providing that primary nonsurgical care.

Much of their work involves routine treatment of colds and ankle and back injuries, Smith said, but “on occasion, we see very hair-raising things” such as suspected heart attacks and severe illness.

That means care providers must “have that broad perspective” on how to treat many kinds of situations and injuries,” Smith said.

Further education is the key, Fleischer said. The conference “is a chance to level that playing field.”

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