JBSA-FORT SAM HOUSTON, TEXAS - As part of a multi-day visit to several military medical organizations located in Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, the Honorable Thomas McCaffery, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, spent an entire morning at the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) for a brief and tour Oct. 20.
McCaffery met with METC leadership and learned how the schoolhouse trains and prepares the future enlisted medical force. Navy Capt. Thomas Herzig, METC Commandant, explained how the schoolhouse has been able to continue training despite the effects of COVID, while adhering to safety and social distancing guidelines. Although challenging in the beginning because of space constraints for students to spread out, METC was able to adapt new ideas and learning methods to make it work.
“We added a second shift for our largest program, the combat medics, because we just didn’t have enough physical space to accommodate all the students,” stated Herzig. “By adding the second shift they could have the social distancing that they need.”
Herzig spoke about other measures that METC implemented, to include taking over spaces that were not being used, such as auditoriums which could accommodate large classes. In some cases, he said, classes were split up in order to maintain the student/instructor ratios while still adhering to social distancing. Many programs also transitioned to online learning for classroom instruction, with students returning to the campus in small groups to conduct practical exercises in the laboratories and classrooms.
“We worked closely with the Services to ensure students are adhering to all the appropriate rules and guidelines, such as wearing face coverings and remaining on post,” Herzig explained, adding that students have been restricted to the post since February. “We’ve been able to do the teaching that is required and also started developing distance learning programs so that the students who are in a ROM (restriction of movement) status can keep up with their classes.”
McCaffery expressed interest in understanding how students earn college credit for the training they receive at METC. Herzig explained that over 1,400 degree bridge pathways stem from METC’s partnership with close to 90 colleges and universities around the country. In addition to that, METC has two close partners in the granting of college credit; one is with the Community College of the Air Force and the other is with the Uniform Services University’s College of Allied Health Sciences (CAHS). So far, 16 METC programs have transferred over to CAHS as the institution of record for granting undergraduate degrees.
At one point, McCaffery commented that, in his conversations with the Services on a variety of topics, the joint training initiative and output from METC is never one to be identified as an issue. “I am making the assumption that there is general satisfaction with how METC meets the Services’ training requirements,” he remarked. “Consolidation in the education and training enterprise works.”
Following the brief, Herzig escorted McCaffery on a tour of several METC programs. They visited the Respiratory Therapist, Surgical Technologist, Hospital Corpsman Basic, Aerospace Medical Service Apprentice, and Combat Medic Specialist programs where McCaffery observed training and spoke with program leadership.
He also presented his coin to two deserving individuals, Petty Officer 1st Class Phillip Tinker, program director of the METC Respiratory Therapist program, and Petty Officer 1st Class Delon Lewis, program director of the METC Cardiovascular program.
In the end, McCaffery’s visit to METC made a positive impression. “I’m amazed at the level of responsibility and training,” he said. “Being here and translating what I’ve seen, I was very impressed with it.”