Host nation ‘Fellows’ graduation highlights medical program at USNH Yokosuka

By Greg Mitchell, USNH Yokosuka Public Affairs

YOKOSUKA, Japan – Faculty and staff of U.S. Naval Hospital (USNH) Yokosuka received the opportunity to watch as the latest group of physicians participating in the Japanese National Physician Graduate Medical Education Program graduated during a ceremony held in their honor in the command auditorium, March 25.

The Program calls for six physicians to participate in a yearlong internship within USNH Yokosuka, performing regular duties and responsibilities that their American counterparts do – from seeing patients to assisting the referral management office with transferring patients who require specialty care available at local Japanese hospitals.

The 2015-2016 group consisted of five doctors; Keisuke Abe, chief intern of the group, Takuya Ogami, Mikiro Kato, Hikari Yoshii and Maya Hara.

Dr. Mikiro Kato, physician, assigned to U.S. Naval Hospital (USNH) Yokosuka's Japanese Physician Graduate Medical Education Program prepares for surgery. The program calls for Japanese care providers to serve for a yearlong internship within USNH Yokosuka, performing regular duties and responsibilities that their American counterparts would do, to include the transferring of patients who require specialty care available at local Japanese hospitals. (U.S. Navy photo by USNH Yokosuka Public Affairs Office/Released.)

Dr. Mikiro Kato, physician, assigned to U.S. Naval Hospital (USNH) Yokosuka’s Japanese Physician Graduate Medical Education Program prepares for surgery. The program calls for Japanese care providers to serve for a yearlong internship within USNH Yokosuka, performing regular duties and responsibilities that their American counterparts would do, to include the transferring of patients who require specialty care available at local Japanese hospitals. (U.S. Navy photo by USNH Yokosuka Public Affairs Office/Released.)

Acting UNSH Yokosuka Commanding Officer, Capt. Kristen Atterbury provided opening remarks.

“I am honored to share this celebration of the graduation of the Japanese medical colleges on their year-long fellowship,” said Atterbury. “To the graduates of the Japanese National Physician’s Graduate Medical Education Program, I hope that your experience has been rich and rewarding. Your engagement with our facility and our host nation hospitals provide the invaluable cultural bridge which ensures a seamless transition to a higher level of care and serving as ambassadors between the United States and Japan. On behalf of Navy Medicine and the U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka, Japan, thank you and congratulations on your successful completion of the program.”

During post war Japan in 1952, the program began at USNH Yokosuka with the goal of providing Japanese physicians an opportunity to learn Western medicine. It has since evolved into a form of a pathway for Japanese doctors who desire to have a career in the United States, while also helping the hospital to strengthen its relationship with the host nation.

“From their perspective, the year-long rotating fellowship offers them a glimpse into Western-style medical practice and affords them the opportunity to perfect their medical English,” said Lt. Joseph Lopreiato, Executive Program Director. “Many of our graduating fellows go on to complete residency and masters-level training programs in the United States, and their medical fellowship at USNH undoubtedly helps to prepare them for the next phase of their careers.”

Japanese care providers are selected in October to begin training the following April. The year includes rotations in various areas such as internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine and neurology, amongst others. Six weeks of electives are available for fellows to choose from as well.

Amongst their other duties, Lopreiato stated that the fellows are also routinely called upon to act as medical translators and interpreters for our Japanese-speaking patients.

“The fellows play a critical role in facilitating urgent/emergent medical transfers to host nation hospitals when patients’ needs exceed our capability to provide,” said Lopreiato. “I am convinced that our hospital could not function as it does without their active and ongoing involvement; we are, after all, a forward-deployed medical treatment facility with limited subspecialty support, diagnostic and interventional capability and so forth.”

Each of the care providers had their own experience while working at USNH Yokosuka.

“This program was very important for USNH Yokosuka as well as ourselves,” said Abe. “We were able to contribute to the overall mission of the hospital by making our presence felt when American patients were transferred to Japanese hospitals. The situation called for us to be an active part of the USNH Yokosuka team, something we will never forget. In the end, I think there is no doubt that the patients benefited greatly from our presence.”

Abe’s colleges agreed with his assessment.

“’Excellent’ would be the word I would use to describe my experience while working at USNH Yokosuka,” said Ogami. “All of our American co-workers were very kind and respectful to us. Although language translation and patient transfers were at times difficult due to the level of responsibility, the experience here was so precious for us. During transfers to Japanese hospitals, I imagine that patients must be worried about their situation, so we were the only resources for them about their medical condition while off base. Through it all, we were proud to have served as liaisons between the local Japanese hospitals and USNH.”

YOKOSUKA, Japan – From left to right, doctors’ Hikari Yoshii, Keisuke Abe, Maya Hara, Takuya Ogami and Mikiro Kato pose for a group photo upon the completion of the Japanese National Physician Graduate Medical Education Program graduation ceremony held in their honor in the command auditorium, March 25. The program calls for Japanese care providers to serve for a yearlong internship within USNH Yokosuka, performing regular duties and responsibilities that their American counterparts would do, to include the transferring of patients who require specialty care available at local Japanese hospitals. (US Navy photo by USNH Yokosuka Public Affairs Office/Released)

YOKOSUKA, Japan – From left to right, doctors’ Hikari Yoshii, Keisuke Abe, Maya Hara, Takuya Ogami and Mikiro Kato pose for a group photo upon the completion of the Japanese National Physician Graduate Medical Education Program graduation ceremony held in their honor in the command auditorium, March 25. The program calls for Japanese care providers to serve for a yearlong internship within USNH Yokosuka, performing regular duties and responsibilities that their American counterparts would do, to include the transferring of patients who require specialty care available at local Japanese hospitals. (US Navy photo by USNH Yokosuka Public Affairs Office/Released)

Completion of the graduation brings each physician the opportunity to proceed in their medical careers with a more well-rounded international perspective.

“Nothing but great experiences during my time here,” said Kato. “We have learned the essence of western medicine by rotating throughout the various clinics within the hospital. Along with that, we also conducted academic experiences which included oral presentations. From here, I intend to work as a doctor in the United States with the goal of becoming a bridge between the United States and Japan in the medical field.”

Lopreiato emphasized that the learning experience involves not only the Japanese, but also includes the Americans – both active duty and civilian.

“My interaction with the fellows has allowed me to become more familiar with the methods of medical education in Japan and the often lengthy and laborious process by which new physicians in this country are trained,” said Lopreiato. “Standards of medical care between Japan and America are often quite similar, although this is not always the case.  Recognizing these subtle differences in medical practice is essential to maintaining good relationships with our host nation partner hospitals, from whom our patients benefit tremendously.”

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