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Robotics key to medical Airmen recruitment, retention, readiness

U.S. Air Force Maj. Joshua Tyler, 81st Surgical Operations Squadron Institute for Defense Robotic Surgical Education program director, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and Maj. Scott Thallemer, InDoRSE program coordinator, pose for a photo inside the robotics surgery training room at the clinical research lab on Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, Sept. 13, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Kemberly Groue)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Joshua Tyler, 81st Surgical Operations Squadron Institute for Defense Robotic Surgical Education program director, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and Maj. Scott Thallemer, InDoRSE program coordinator, pose for a photo inside the robotics surgery training room at the clinical research lab on Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, Sept. 13, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Kemberly Groue)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Scott Thallemer, 81st Surgical Operations Squadron Institute for Defense Robotic Surgical Education program coordinator, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and Maj. Joshua Tyler, InDoRSE program director, provide instruction to students during a robotics surgery training session at Keesler Air Force Base’s clinical research lab, Sept. 13, 2018. (U.S. Air Fore photo by Kemberly Groue)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Scott Thallemer, 81st Surgical Operations Squadron Institute for Defense Robotic Surgical Education program coordinator, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and Maj. Joshua Tyler, InDoRSE program director, provide instruction to students during a robotics surgery training session at Keesler Air Force Base’s clinical research lab, Sept. 13, 2018. (U.S. Air Fore photo by Kemberly Groue)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- With surgical robots becoming the standard of care across many specialties, the Air Force Medical Service is keeping up with the latest advancements to provide the best patient care and maintain Airman readiness.

“Robotics has been the standard for years in the private sector, especially in OB-GYN and urology,” said Maj. Joshua Tyler, director of robotics at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. “The Air Force is bringing those same advancements in surgical robotics and technology that we see in the private sector into the hands of our surgeons and operating room medics.”

According to Tyler, getting this technology will improve patient care and have a positive impact on recruitment, retention and readiness. Having the opportunity to gain experience with surgical robotics enhances capabilities and skillsets.

“As a surgeon, robotics help me to see specific areas much clearer, especially in complex cases where millimeters matter,” said Tyler. “I have a better understanding of the tissue plane and what’s connected to what. Robotics help make me a better surgeon.”

Access to surgical robotics can also help surgeons treat a higher volume of patients, which also improves readiness.

“Robotics can bring more patients into our hospitals when we can now offer similar technology as the private sector,” said Tyler. “When surgeons treat more patients in their home station practice, they are more effective downrange.”

Surgical robotics helps retain seasoned and highly qualified surgeons in the Air Force. As Tyler explains, expanding opportunities for Air Force surgeons to have a rewarding clinical practice, leads to longer careers. This preserves vital institutional knowledge and ensures an active duty force with deployed medical experience.

“As we continue to improve our in-garrison surgical capabilities, we can help retain those valuable surgeons and ensure we are a far more ready medical force,” said Tyler.

The Air Force has already made significant strides in securing and expanding surgical robotics training opportunities. The 81st Medical Group at Keesler AFB stood-up its Institute for Defense Robotic Surgical Education program in March of 2017. The program has already trained 62 surgeons from 10 specialties and 29 facilities. InDoRSE graduates have gone on to perform nearly 740 robotics surgeries.

“InDoRSE has a unique focus with an emphasis on innovation and Trusted Care by training the entire surgical team to leverage their skills to deliver excellent care,” said Tyler.

Tyler, along with and the rest of Keesler’s InDoRSE robotics team, also helped to stand up the Air Force’s second robotic surgery program at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, in April of last year. Maj. Toby Lees, the surgical specialties flight commander and urology medical director at Wright-Patterson AFB, is confident the program is improving readiness.

“The impact on medical Airmen and readiness is clear,” said Lees. “The tantalizing proposition is that one day a medic can get a patient to a hardened facility overseas, where a specialized surgeon could operate on them while at a center of excellence in the United States.”

According to Tyler, Nellis AFB, Travis AFB and Joint Base Andrews facilities are set to acquire their own surgical robots.

“We are investing in our medical Airmen to give them new skills to stay on the cutting edge of medicine,” said Tyler. “Expanding our surgical robotics capabilities improves patient care while building the skills that keep Airmen ready to perform downrange.”