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AMSUS: Tying Together the Military Health System and Others

 

 

Founded in 1891 and chartered by Congress in 1903 as the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, AMSUS later retained the acronym but officially renamed the organization The Society of Federal Health Professionals to reflect its wider reach and concerns in the 20th century.

Although 2016 marks the 125th anniversary of AMSUS as a permanent organization, its unofficial roots can be traced back to 1863 and formation of the Confederate Association of Army and Navy Surgeons. Both groups shared a common concern: how to retain and disseminate the medical knowledge and lessons learned in combat both during and between wars, as was the case in 1891, and help facilitate and spread dramatic changes and advances – medical, technical, operational, and philosophical. An organization like AMSUS had to be created to document and preserve the perishable medical knowledge gained in war as well as in natural disasters and epidemics.

“I don’t think there is any other medical meeting that brings all these agencies together in one place or a journal that has all the different disciplines and agencies and partnerships together in one place. Through our annual meeting and the journal, we provide others the opportunity to gather and share information.”

“There was a need to gather and maintain some of the lessons learned from previous wars on how to treat battlefield injuries so we don’t have to learn the same lessons over and over again,” said Cmdr. John Class, USN (Ret.), AMSUS Deputy Executive Director and a former Medical Service Corps health care administrator. “Because of the time frame [between wars], a lot of the physicians involved in previous combat care were retiring or dying and that knowledge base was getting lost. And once you lose those with experience, then the next generation of physicians has to learn the same lessons all over again.”

From the beginning, AMSUS was set apart from other medical organizations by taking no advocacy role on any of those topics, but providing U.S. federal health care providers – both military and civilian – medical and pharmaceutical companies, state emergency health care providers, and, more recently, the international military medicine community with open forums to report new discoveries, discuss changes in emergency medicine, and exchange ideas and information.

“We’re more platform than activist,” Class said. “I don’t think there is any other medical meeting that brings all these agencies together in one place or a journal that has all the different disciplines and agencies and partnerships together in one place. Through our annual meeting and the journal, we provide others the opportunity to gather and share information.

“For instance, in Military Medicine, we publish a lot of supplemental issues on specific topics, such as women in combat. It’s a place where you have a number of different DOD [Department of Defense] and VA [Department of Veterans Affairs] authors of different articles and studies compiled in one place, making their own recommendations that both DOD and the VA can use to determine future issues and where they are going.”

At the same time as its founding, AMSUS began publishing the monthly Military Medicine journal and holding an Annual Continuing Education Meeting, both designed to build a new system of medical networks and provide forums for interservice and interdisciplinary exchanges, free from competitive or organizational “stovepipe” restrictions. Its members and beneficiaries of these efforts include DOD, the VA, and the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS).

“We help advance the knowledge of military medicine – and the realm we advance is readiness, which is totally unique in the federal environment. And, finally, but very importantly, we are the most prestigious recognizer of excellence. The AMSUS awards are the only accredited, recognized awards in military medicine.”

“We are a historical vessel, helping keep alive the traditions of the military. We support them through our awards ceremonies; we support fellowship between federal agencies that not only increases the satisfaction of being a health care professional, but I believe helps smooth the operations of organizations with others by providing professional social relationships in an environment where they are not separated by competition,” said AMSUS Executive Director and former Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. Michael Cowan.

“We help advance the knowledge of military medicine – and the realm we advance is readiness, which is totally unique in the federal environment. And, finally, but very importantly, we are the most prestigious recognizer of excellence. The AMSUS awards are the only accredited, recognized awards in military medicine.”

In 1953, AMSUS assisted in the creation of the Sustaining Members (SM), comprising private-sector companies doing business with components of federal health. Representatives from the approximately 100 SM companies meet quarterly to interact with and learn from federal officials – and each other – on topics of interest to their industries. Those include management consultants, pharma, and manufacturers of both durable and disposable medical goods.

“We have almost no history on how that started. The evidence indicates that somehow people got together from industry – pharma, manufacturing, consumable and durable medical goods, etc. – and said they wanted to meet from time to time as an industry to develop networks, relationships, and mutual understanding,” Cowan said.

“They wanted acquisition and policy officials and leaders of military service medical elements [to] meet with them – not to try to sell anything to them but to exchange information. They needed a 501(c)(3) umbrella, so AMSUS became that for them – about 100 companies, mostly sales execs, who meet on a quarterly basis under the sanction of AMSUS.”

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...