ARCHIVED - The Canadian Army Surgeon: That’s Army-speak for doctor in charge

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Article / April 15, 2015 / Project number: 15-0068

Ottawa, Ontario — Balancing the roles of the Canadian Army Surgeon is ‘an art as much as it is a science,’ according to Colonel Jim Kile, the Army’s current top medical advisor.

As the Canadian Army (CA) Surgeon, Col Kile is the senior clinical advisor for the Canadian Army.  His work is important for the entire Army, and ranges from advising the Army Commander to supporting base surgeons and patients across the country.

Although the term “surgeon” makes most Canadians think of a doctor with a scalpel in hand, it has a different meaning within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), according to Col Kile. In the CAF and CA context, “surgeon” refers to any military physician in a command or leadership position.

It’s confusing because on the civilian side, when people hear the word ‘surgeon’ they think I am, in fact, a surgeon,” Col Kile said.  “But in the CAF, the majority of physicians in leadership roles are medical doctors who have various levels of specialized training.

Col Kile attended the University of Waterloo where he completed both a Bachelor and a Master of Science specializing in muscle fatigue and exercise physiology. In 1989, he enrolled in the CAF through the Medical Officer Training Program and later graduated from the University of Toronto Medical School.

After returning from Operation MANDARIN as the Battalion Medical Officer for the Canadian Logistics Battalion in the Balkans, Col Kile was posted to the Canadian Forces Medical School as an instructor. In 1996, he graduated top candidate in the CAF flight surgeons’ course and was promoted and posted to 4th Canadian Division Support Base Petawawa as Base Surgeon. Col Kile has completed several deployments including a stint in Afghanistan, where he was the Commanding Officer and Task Force Surgeon of the field hospital during Operation ATHENA.  

At the strategic level, I have to balance being an Army physician and a patient advocate, which is an art as much as it is a science,” said Col Kile, who works closely with Lieutenant-General Marquis Hainse, Commander of the Canadian Army, to address mental health initiatives, emergency medicine and issues surrounding patient care.

In his advisory role, Col Kile is the main communications link between the award-winning Canadian Forces Health Services (CFHS) and the CA on domestic and international health-related issues affecting Army troops. As such, some of his key roles include patient advocacy, crisis prevention and the Army’s contribution and support to international crises.

Routinely and during a crisis, the operations cell at CFHS puts together a roster of health-care professionals and equipment for deployment, and when the Commander has concerns about the safety of his deployed troops, I can answer to those concerns immediately,” said Col Kile, noting the fight against Ebola as a prime example. “I often act as an interpreter for the most up-to-date research information.

At the base level, the Canadian Army Surgeon interacts with key medical personnel when required to evaluate complex patient issues, particularly when the chain of command requires up-to-date information on mental health initiatives, injury prevention or combat fatigue. Discussions with base physicians and patients provide Col Kile insight into regional patient care issues and treatment. These communication efforts are essential components of an efficient health-care system in the Army.

Another aspect of Col Kile’s role is to provide advice to the medical officer occupation from an attraction and retention perspective. Col Kile says the CA is currently working with other CAF entities to plan strategies to attract and retain medical professionals. Incentives include competitive salaries, mentoring partnerships, health benefits and more.

In fact, an upcoming conference – the first of its kind – will highlight the ways in which senior medical leadership can help increase the number of uniformed clinicians and create a culture of retention among staff. Col Kile says a more defined mentorship program between senior medical officers and aspiring medical students may help current members with medical school applications and admittance.

As CFHS moves forward with these initiatives, the CAF continues to provide a world-class example for emergency services and medical personnel, according to Col Kile. Canada’s acceptance of the Dominique-Jean Larrey Award from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2012 is one tangible acknowledgement of this. The award reflects CAF leadership in the establishment and command of the Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. It was the first-ever NATO multi-national field hospital involved in combat operations.

But that’s not all. In 2013, CFHS also received the “Accredited with Commendation” award from Accreditation Canada, an independent, not-for-profit organization that recognizes excellence and competency among national health-care bodies. The award is granted to organizations that go above and beyond their commitment to quality and improvement.

Our Canadian Health Services personnel play a vital role in the physical and psychological well-being of our troops,” said LGen Hainse. “Their continued commitment and comprehensive approach to recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration helps to provide the best possible support for our men and women in uniform, both at home and abroad.

When summing up his role, the Canadian Army Surgeon highlights how his various functions depend on the collaboration of all CFHS team members. “I had the chance to work on the United States Ship (USS) Enterprise, a large-scale aircraft carrier, as a flight surgeon (a physician specializing in aviation medicine). As I watched the jets taking off and landing, I realized it was a finely choreographed dance to maximize safety and success,” Col Kile recalls, noting the importance of a common and synchronized strategy.

When I look at the Canadian Armed Forces Health Services, we’re the same way: All working together for one goal and that is to look after our patients, while at the same time supporting each other and the chain of command.

By Meagan Sylvester, Army Public Affairs, with files from Gerry Weaver

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