Surgeon devotes career to battlefield trauma care

What began as a way to practice medicine and pay for college has become a life calling for one U.S. Army surgeon. Col. Jennifer Gurney, a surgeon with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at the Joint Base San Antonio – Fort Sam Houston, Texas, says that her reason to continue her 20-year career is to help build the training and standards it takes to maintain Soldier readiness on the battlefield.


“When Soldiers don’t have constant practice taking care of battlefield casualties, the skills learned can be lost. We drift, and when we drift that comes at the cost of lives lost in the battlefield.”
By Staff Sgt. Amanda Fry Southern European Task Force Africa Accra, Ghana Feb 09, 2022
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ACCRA, Ghana — What began as a way to practice medicine and pay for college has become a life calling for one U.S. Army surgeon. Col. Jennifer Gurney, a surgeon with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at the Joint Base San Antonio – Fort Sam Houston, Texas, says that her reason to continue her 20-year career is to help build the training and standards it takes to maintain Soldier readiness on the battlefield. 

“The reason I’m still in the military is because as we are in this interwar period, I can already see that we are losing lessons that we’ve learned for combat casualty care,” Gurney said. “If we don’t stay laser focused, then there are going to be unnecessary deaths from potentially survivable injuries in the next conflict.” 

While her passion and drive for providing acute care to combat casualties developed early on her military career, Gurney said she made the decision to join for a very straightforward reason. 

In 1999, Gurney found herself in student loan debt after graduating medical school at Boston University. She discovered the Health Profession Service Scholarship with the military, and decided to serve in the Army for the opportunities working at the medical centers available within the branch. 

Gurney said her reasons for remaining in the military shifted on Sept. 11 2001, which occurred during her second year of surgical residency at Walter Reed Military Hospital. 

“I remember thinking that the world had changed,” she said. “And that maybe my plans for my life had changed as well.”

 After her residency, Gurney began working at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany, providing trauma care for casualties transported from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gurney recalled that during her time in Germany, she would see areas in emergency care on the battlefield that could be improved. This led to her seeking a fellowship as a trauma surgeon, so that she could better communicate battlefield needs and methods. 

Today, Gurney says this work keeps her motivated to continue her military service. She trains military medical personnel in readiness methods so that the skills that have been developed over the past two decades are not lost in the future. 

This summer, Gurney will help lead a team of about 20 U.S. Army doctors in Accra in a weeks-long medical exercise with Ghana Armed Forces care providers, training with U.S. and GAF personnel in an austere environment. 

Gurney said the U.S. Army medical readiness exercises in Africa help instill readiness among Army medical professionals. These MEDREXs push participants to find solutions to deliver expert medical care when and where access to U.S. quality and equipment standards are days away. It is just the latest way that Gurney is instilling readiness and resilience among Army medical professionals.

“When Soldiers don’t have constant practice taking care of battlefield casualties, the skills learned can be lost,” Gurney said. “We drift, and when we drift that comes at the cost of lives lost in the battlefield.”

Medical readiness exercises allow U.S. Army and African military doctors to exchange medical procedures, collaborate on shared interests, and strengthen treatment capabilities, according to U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa press releases. Participants are exposed to various medical delivery methods which improve their capacity to assess and employ care while providing medical services to nearly 370 patients in the local community. Gurney said she sees the exercises as an excellent opportunity to train and continue her work in providing Soldiers with lifesaving emergency care when it matters most.

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