Med students to get training to treat PTSD, combat head injuries

The Obama administration is encouraging schools to address the hundreds of thousands of new veterans with mental health problems and traumatic brain injury.

By Charles Fiegl — Posted Jan. 19, 2012

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Academic institutions are partnering with a military support initiative led by the Obama administration to improve care for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and traumatic brain injury.

First lady Michelle Obama announced that 130 medical education programs have agreed to participate in a program ensuring that physicians are trained to recognize and treat combat PTSD and TBI. Obama spoke about the initiative Jan. 11 at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond, one of the participating schools.

"By directing some of our brightest minds, our most cutting-edge research and our finest teaching institutions toward our military families, they're ensuring that those who have served our country receive the first-rate care that they have earned," she said.

The effort is part of the administration's Joining Forces initiative, which coordinates support from different sectors of the economy for service members. Joining Forces Executive Director Brad Cooper said the majority of military personnel return from war without injury, but one in five soldiers are impacted by PTSD. A 2008 report by the Rand Corp. estimated that about 300,000 service members had developed PTSD or major depression stemming from deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Many medical colleges offer training for treating PTSD, but most do not, Cooper said. Schools agreeing to join the Joining Forces program have pledged to ensure that future physicians are taught the clinical challenges of caring for veterans and other service members, many of whom are in their 20s and 30s and will need treatment over their lifetimes.

"The commitment is going to help train the nation's future physicians on military cultural issues, including PTSD and TBI as a focus," Cooper said. "They will also develop new research and clinical trials so that we can better understand and treat these conditions -- and share information and best practices through a robust collaborative forum that previously did not exist."

The American Medical Association applauded the Joining Forces initiative for its work, said AMA President-elect Jeremy A. Lazarus, MD. "By highlighting these issues to physicians, encouraging continuing medical education activities and working with Joining Forces initiative partners, the AMA is committed to ensuring that service members and their families receive the quality care they deserve."

Participating schools will have access to websites that allow them to share educational resources, said John E. Prescott, MD, chief academic officer with the Assn. of American Medical Colleges. The initiative also will survey medical schools to understand the current scope of PTSD and TBI research and advances in clinical care.

AAMC has posted links to education resources and participating institutions on its website (link).

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