By John Harrington , 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 25, 2018
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine will begin offering Air Force Medical Service mid-level leaders a new Basic Leader Airman Skills Training course to empower the total force with the skills needed to provide safe, high-quality, patient-centered care beginning Oct. 1, 2018.
BLAST is a five-day course held at USAFSAM here that will provide managerial and administrative training, including Trusted Care principles, for flight commanders, flight chiefs and medical directors from all seven AFMS corps - biomedical sciences, dental, medical, medical services, nurse, enlisted and civilian – for those currently in a position, slated to occupy a position or as preparation for a possible future opportunity.
“In flight leadership, you can get assigned to a place and your handoff is maybe two days if you have a handoff at all, so knowing what you need to target can be difficult,” said Master Sgt. Robert R. Ayala, flight chief of Family Health at Eglin Air Force Base and BLAST student. “What this class offers is a really great opportunity to have some knowledge so you know what to tackle on your day one, your day 30, what to track on a quarterly basis as you move forward. I think this class is great for those just getting in there and a great reminder to those who are currently in the position.”
Born from the Trusted Care initiative in 2014, as the military health system and civilian partners embarked on a mission to evaluate and improve its healthcare system, BLAST’s intent grew quickly from its provider-focused beginnings.
“The original request for a mid-level management class came from the Chiefs of the Biomedical Sciences and Medical Corps in 2014. However, after co-writing the Trusted Care Concept of Operations in 2015, it became very apparent that this shouldn’t be just the physicians and allied health officers,” said Lt. Col. Mike Fea, Headquarters Air Force Surgeon General Deputy Division chief for Officer Force Development. “Trusted Care is all about every Airmen, every day, being a problem solver. In short, this had to be a total team effort where we bring all corps together at a much earlier point in their career to learn and share in an experiential learning forum.”
Fea said Headquarters Air Force, Surgeon General’s Directorate for Manpower, Personnel, and Resources worked with AFMS corps directors, their deputies and Trusted Care and Medical Service Corps subject matter experts to formulate an initial BLAST curriculum based on competencies from the Joint Medical Executive Skills Institute and Trusted Care. After a successful pilot in San Antonio, Texas in January 2017, Air Staff put out for bids for an educational command to take over course development and implementation. USAFSAM won the bid and obtained Force Development Panel approval. USAFSAM Office of the Dean Superintendent Senior Master Sgt. Jason Herndon then helped the USAFSAM team take the vision that Air Staff presented and turn it into a second successful pilot in March 2018 and a third BLAST pilot, which was successfully conducted in May. The final version of the BLAST course is scheduled to begin at the start of fiscal year 2019.
“It feels good to be a part of this because this is something that I think we’ve needed for a long time,” said Herndon. “I can tell you sitting as a flight chief there were many times going into, and even the second time being a flight chief, an organization for the first time you go ‘Man, I feel kind of lost,’ like I wish I had a checklist or a guide or something to help me understand what it is that I’m looking for. So again, it feels good to be a part of this.”
Before BLAST, flight-level leaders assumed their positions with no additional training and often with minimal turnover with their predecessors, according to Fea. Instead, they relied on whatever informal mentorship relationships they had and on-the-job training. For Lt. Col. John Catoe, a pharmacist by training who assumed a flight commander position at an overseas location that also included leading a medical laboratory and radiology, both areas he was not familiar with, it was something he found challenging.
“How do I support them as a leader? I did not have that [cross-discipline] training. I did not have the Trusted Care concepts,” Catoe said before remarking on what he saw in the second pilot of the BLAST course. “I’m excited by it; just to see what they’re learning here makes me even more excited. It’s invaluable – you can’t put a price tag on what they’re learning.”
Catoe, currently the Medical Support Squadron commander at Shaw Air Force Base, is slated to be the USAFSAM BLAST course director. He and other instructors will bring their own experiences as flight- and squadron-level leaders to a curriculum agreed to by all seven AFMS corps in providing baseline leadership skills to what USAFSAM expects to be around 750 BLAST students annually.
"This is about providing the right training for the right person at the right time in their career,
Fea said. “The first couple of days are more about leading yourself and leading teams. [Then] we infuse the principles of Trusted Care and the flight management aspect of it - all the different tools of 'How can I be successful as that flight leader in that new role, in that responsibility' where [before] we didn't have any of those tools.”
While many of those trained in the BLAST pilots were flight commanders or flight chiefs, government civilians who have duty titles such as leader, team leader or supervisors are also eligible to attend. Pamela Taylor is a registered nurse at Hurlburt Field Family Health who, along with other nurses, helps lead a group of technicians in a wide array of patient care. Taylor says that she’s finding BLAST very beneficial as she positions herself to take on a greater leadership role.
“I’m learning leadership skills such as better communications skills that I can start [using] now with my technicians, doing peer support, and guiding and leading in a nursing aspect,” Taylor said. “I think that’s helping me gear toward that quality improvement – [doing] things that I can help guide our team.”
BLAST supplements regular Air Force professional military education by addressing leadership needs specific to the medical fields, such as the adoption of the Four Domains of Trusted Care: leadership engagement, culture of safety, continuous process improvement and patient centeredness.
“I think it’s long overdue,” said Maj. Alden L. Taylor, Nellis Air Force Base Physical Therapy/Occupational Therapy flight commander. “What it takes to be a good clinician or a good noncommissioned officer is not necessarily going to transition well to being a good leader within an organization staff. There are different skill sets. There are different metrics that you have to track differently. Having some of this information as a young major or a senior captain as you get your first flight will be very beneficial.”
BLAST will complete an extensive series of leadership training courses specifically tailored to the medical community that AFMS offers its leaders to include the Intermediate Executive Skills course for squadron commanders, squadron superintendents, other leaders and civilian paygrades GS-11 through GS-13 and the Combined Senior Leader Course for new colonels, chief master sergeants and civilian paygrades GS-14 and above.
“As a team, we’ve come together, USAFSAM and Air Staff, to hit the mark of what the field is demanding and what we needed to produce, as leaders, to make sure we’re equipping mid-level leaders with what they need to be successful at the onset,” Herndon said.
Major commands and interested Airmen should watch for official AFMS guidance, as well as follow the AFMS webpage and social media, for more information on BLAST eligibility and application requirements as they become available.