PORTLAND, Maine — As a veteran and former chief of pain management at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Marc Hahn has seen firsthand how the stresses of war affect America’s military personnel.
Now, as dean of the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, he’s leading the Maine school into a new initiative to prepare the next generation of doctors to better understand the needs of veterans.
Hahn was included in a select group of medical school deans visiting Virginia Commonwealth University on Wednesday to launch the program, spearheaded at a national level by first lady Michelle Obama and her Joining Forces initiative, focused on better serving military vets and their families.
The new push will include the introduction of more courses and programs geared toward diagnosing and treating the unique symptoms of war veterans, the launch of more research into post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, and the establishment of an academic network through which best practices and new innovations can be shared.
As many as 130 member schools of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and the Association of American Medical Colleges have signed on to participate.
For Hahn, who served as anesthesiologist to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush during his time at Walter Reed, and the University of New England, the focus on veterans needs and PTSD is a natural fit.
“The UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine has included Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a part of its curriculum, and we are working with the other colleges within the university for a 2012 UNE InterProfessional Education Collaborative event looking at traumatic brain injury,” Hahn said in a statement issued to the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday. “In addition, researchers within the UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine have developed an animal model for PTSD; that model, in fact, won a scientific research award at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Academy of Pain Management in March 2011.”
That groundbreaking work, in which university researchers tracked the pain sensitivity in rats when subjected to steady stress, was hailed in the medical industry as providing another layer of insight into the physiological state of humans when facing similarly unrelenting tension.
“This may model aspects of what soldiers experience in the battlefield in places like Afghanistan and Iraq where soldiers are on guard 24-7, never knowing when the enemy will attack,” said Dr. Edward Bilsky, a UNE professor and director of the school’s Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences, at the time. “This type of stress is unremitting and more of a man-made type of stress event. Physiologically, our systems are not well prepared to handle that kind of a stressor, and that may be contributing to some of these chronic pain states, especially in conditions such as PTSD.”
Other schools contributing to the effort include the University of Pittsburgh, where a White House announcement claims “researchers are developing a new imaging tool that allows the visualization of the wiring of the brain in vivid high definition,” and the University of South Florida, which is credited with establishing a Center for Veterans Reintegration to integrate research, treatment and education surrounding PTSD and other traumatic injuries in a single facility.