​​​​​​​Hackensack UMC launches training program to help Army reservists hone their skills

Caroline Nieves, x-ray supervisor at Hackensack University Medical Center, instructs soldiers SSG Rudy Salcedo (right), SFC Jacqueline Chavarro and Sgt. Anthony Joassaint (left) on proper positioning and x-ray techniques. (Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center)(Credit: Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center)

U.S. Army reservists are expected to be at a state of readiness at all times, and that extends to those whose skills lie in medicine.

Soldiers serving in the Army Reserve may have been training in clinical skills like radiology and laboratory technology by the military, but those skills can get rusty for those who have totally different civilian jobs. So Hackensack University Medical Center, the flagship hospital of Hackensack Meridian Health system, has partnered with the Army Reserve to offer clinical training for soldiers.

Jason Kreitner, vice president and senior operations officer for Hackensack, said in an interview with FierceHealthcare that hospital employees were enthusiastic about the program from the get-go.

“You could just see the fire in their eyes,” Kreitner said. “It’s one of those feel-good moments.”

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The program, Operation Hackensack S.M.A.R.T. (Strategic Medical Asset Readiness Training), launched with its first class on June 5, where reservists observed Hackensack staff members in both radiology and in the lab.

Kreitner said the program was born almost by kismet. A colonel who was in the hospital visiting family struck up a conversation with Kreitner in his office, and it blossomed from there. Senior leadership was on board immediately, and they saw it as a potential “win-win” for both Hackensack and the Army Reserve.

Sgt. Anthony Joassaint, a radiology specialist assigned to the 7411th Troop Medical Clinic based out of Fort Hamilton, New York, and a Purple Heart recipient who is a member of the program’s first class, works for the Department of Defense in his civilian role, screening potential soldiers for medical suitability.

He said reservists in military occupational specialties like his don’t have a lot of opportunities to train on those skills.

So training programs like Hackensack’s are extremely useful for reservists who may need to be ready for action at any time, he said.

“Some things can be simulated in a drill hall, but there is a lot that can't. This training gives us an opportunity to see real-world patients with real world problems, and see how our civilian counterparts come up with real-world solutions,” Joassaint, who has served for 15 years and was deployed twice, said.

“The variety and scope of patients that we are dealing with just can't be found on an average Army medical site.”

 Amber Huelsenbeck, PFC, medical lab technician, (left) and Marcus Haynes, SSG, lab section chief,
learn from Frank Hollis, section head of microbiology at Hackensack University Medical Center
about growth and identification of bacteria from different specimens.
(Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center)

At present, the program is focused on observation. The soldiers work two rotations in either radiology or laboratories, and observe typical work in those areas. The radiology group is spread across the hospital, including the emergency department and orthopedics, and is being trained on proper use of the x-ray machines, clinical tasks and patient engagement. The laboratory group is with technicians as they process samples and tests.

The trainees also have the opportunity to interact with the medical academics and other experts at the hospital, Kreitner said. “They have complete access to our medical center,” he said.

Though the program just launched, its first days have already paid enough dividends that Hackensack is looking at potential expansions into other facets of the hospital. Offering the training in pharmacy technology is a likely next step, Kreitner said.

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In addition to sharpening their skills, Joassaint said the program has another benefit: It allows the reservists the chance for face-to-face time with the public.

“I think it's awesome,” he said “First and foremost we are building relationships with the community.”