The U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine is encouraging cross-training and is planning to review recruit training for hospital corpsmen and dental technicians in anticipation of the merger of those rates, estimated to occur in January 2006.

At that time, the rate will be hospital corpsman, or HM, for sailors working in both medical and dental fields, said Petty Officer 1st Class Gerald Stewart, command career counselor at U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.

“This is a ‘for sure’ thing,” he said. “We’ve actually already begun the integration process needed for a future merger to work smoothly,” he said Friday. “As part of the integration, we’ve also already begun some cross-training at our Sasebo and Iwakuni branches.”

The U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka system includes branch commands with medical and dental services at Sasebo Naval Base, Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station and Atsugi Naval Air Facility. The merger now is under review by the secretary of the Navy; a decision to move forward is expected next month.

“The success of this project will require much needed leadership support, personnel and financial resources and a dedicated cadre of people focused on developing the basic training needs of our hospital corpsmen to meet mission requirements of tomorrow,” BUMED Force Master Chief Petty Officer J.L.K. DiRosa said in a recent Navy news report.

A Hospital Corps Summit was held in September at the Hospital Corpsman School in Great Lakes, Ill. It brought together HMs, dental technicians, doctors, nurses, reservists, training and medical support personnel and civilians to focus on time lines and resources needed for post-merger training.

“We need to be thinking about the corpsmen of 2010,” stated Master Chief Petty Officer Vincent Chustz, deputy director of BUMED’s medical department enlisted personnel, in the report. “We need to focus on how this merger is going to help prepare the medical enlisted community of the future.”

Stewart stressed that cross-training already in place at Yokosuka and the branch clinics is working “from the top and trickling down” so that enlisted leadership already will be knowledgeable in both medical and dental disciplines before younger enlisted personnel begin the integration.

“At first it’s the E-8s and E-9s that are being detailed to hospital and dental cross-training. For example, we already have Chief Petty Officer Dana Hyatt from dental detailed with the Director of Surgery department here. Also, hospital corpsman Chief Petty Officer John Bush is detailed and cross-training in the Fleet Dental department,” Stewart said.

The merger of Navy hospital and dental capabilities reaches even farther than the enlisted ranks. On Oct. 1, the integration of Navy medical and dental commands’ financial systems came to completion.

In Yokosuka, Stewart said, the complete integration of the hospital and dental command will be marked on Jan. 4 by a ceremony hosted by hospital commanding officer Capt. Charles Taylor.

A Navy Personnel Command review of dental command structures cited an anticipated “cost avoidance of $4.4 million” over the next five years, Stars and Stripes reported in September. Officials said the goal is an “improved management process while maintaining the same high standard of care,” while avoiding costs of duplicated efforts.

“The duties we have are just so similar in many respects, so the main benefit of the rate merger will be cutting costs,” Stewart said. “For instance, the hospital and dental each have what we call a Central Supply Distribution, where materials are sterilized and kept sanitary until they’re needed. By combining those locations into one operation, we free space and personnel to do additional work that benefits patient care overall.”

Beyond cross-training, the training of new recruits was a topic explored at the fall Hospital Corps Summit. “The summit provided us the opportunity to take a hard look not only at how we currently train our enlisted personnel, but also assisted us in planning for the unique challenges that merging these ratings will bring,” Rear Adm. Nancy J. Lescavage, Naval Medical Education and Training Command commander, stated in the report.

One of the most challenging aspects of merging the two ratings, she noted, is preparing a “pipeline” education program for new recruits. “At some point in the common training, when they’ve decided if they want to go dental or medical, they would receive some specialized training,” said career counselor Stewart.

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