Reserve MSC career field proves hard to the 'corps' (Part 1 of 4)

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jake Chappelle
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Smooth operation of Air Force medical units and facilities requires a blend of healthcare professionals--each with their own specialty--to seamlessly collaborate in order to deliver optimal care for their patients.

The same rules apply during Air Force Reserve weekends, but even more so as time doesn't exactly play in their favor. This is where Medical Service Corps officers step in and work their magic.

MSC officers--also known as health administrators or healthcare service managers--bear a majority of the administrative and operational duties of the unit. They also provide leadership and oversight in many areas, to allow the other medical staff to focus on their areas of expertise.

"Leadership is job number one for the MSC," said Col. Robert Sousa. "Nurses and doctors train to care for people. MSCs train to support and guide them administratively. Generally speaking, MSCs are your administrative experts and help facilitate productive UTAs."

Sousa stood as the Air Force Reserve deputy command surgeon and put in for retirement early September. He is also a MSC officer by trade.

"I very much enjoy being a servant leader," he said. "This is such an exciting career field, with so many opportunities and challenges--so many ways to make a difference."

Reserve weekends aren't the only capacities Reserve MSC officers can make a difference. They're offered leadership opportunities, such as commanding medical units and facilities during active-duty tours, exercises, and overseas deployments.

These roles include functions, like setting policies, managing staff and programs, scheduling, budgets, maintaining and developing inter-organizational relationships, and handling various mission-specific assets. Specific jobs, include logistical support, planning, education and training, medical readiness, mission generation, theater medical operations, expeditionary medicine, and global patient movement.

Driven by the corps' mission to, "lead and inspire healthcare professionals who ensure medically ready Airmen and a trained deployable medical force," Reserve MSC officers are team players who bring expertise, professionalism and dedication to the table, Sousa said. Management skills and flexibility are must haves, in order to make valuable impacts at their assigned units and deployed locations.

"We come from a variety of civilian and military backgrounds and serve as leaders in the military medical system," he said. "MSC officers are the Airmen other medical career fields look to for military mentoring and professional military guidance. To accomplish the Reserve medical mission, traditional Reserve MSCs and air reserve technicians serve in a variety of roles in aeromedical evacuation, aeromedical staging, (the) Expeditionary Medical System, en route care, and aerospace medicine."

The 446th Airlift Wing here, has three medical units--446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, and 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron--all of which possess teams of MSC officers who support their units' missions.

"We can't do our jobs until the MSCs have done theirs," said Col. (Dr.) Bruce Neely, 446th AMDS chief of Aerospace Medicine. "The MSCs provide AMDS with a backbone of logistical and administrative support. Their scheduling and planning allow us to focus on our specialties. Without that support, we wouldn't be able to sustain our mission, like getting through the UTA physicals."

The advantages MSCs contribute to the 446th AMDS and 446th ASTS missions tend to go hand in hand.

"The value of MSC officers is hard to quantify," said Col. Sam Barringer, 446th ASTS commander. "Patient care at a high standard is impossible without the logistic framework MSC officers oversee. They also keep things tight on patient records and movement through the (Aeromedical Evacuation Patient Staging) and (Critical Care Air Transportable Team) systems into the air-evac system. They build the framework in which patient care becomes possible."

The logistics involved when coordinating patient movement from the ASTS structure to the AE cycle requires more attention to detail than usual for the MSC.

"In the AE world, their primary roles are either within the command and control elements of an Aeromedical Evacuation Operations Team--which coordinates patient airlift movements--or in an Aeromedical Liaison Team, which is key to validating patients to be able to be moved within the (Department of Defense) system," said Col. Jan Moore-Harbert, 446th AES commander. "These roles are key to the AE mission. Without these essential officers to manage the ground operations piece, the AE crews wouldn't be as prepared and capable to perform one of the most vital and important missions in the Air Force--taking care of our wounded warriors."

The 430-plus MSC officers assigned to Air Force Reserve Command adhere to four main priorities--enhance communication, advance force development, hone core competencies, and foster a culture of continued excellence. One of the fundamental requirements for new MSCs is attending the Health Services Administration Course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where they initially learn these priorities.

But a person must already be a commissioned officer before fulfilling those requirements.

One of the educational conditions toward becoming a commissioned officer and earning the "MSC" title is holding an undergraduate, or graduate, degree in a health or business-related field, like health services, business administration, or healthcare management.

Sousa doesn't see it as a simple occupation, as long as the officer has a passion for the craft.

"I used to think the two most important qualities were competence and integrity. The older I get, the more important I believe compassion is also key. MSCs need to care about, and care for, their people. If you are passionate about what you do, your career will never be a job."

(Editor's note: This is Part One of a series on the Air Force Reserve, Medical Service Corps officer career field. Get ready to read the diverse stories of some of the MSC officer Citizen Airmen from the 446th Airlift Wing's aerospace medicine, aeromedical staging, and aeromedical evacuation units in the coming weeks.)