By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 21, 2013 – The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. -- the only university of its kind dedicated to educating military doctors, graduate nurses and other specialized health-care professionals -- has earned distinction as one of the top-ranked U.S. graduate schools.
U.S. News & World Report identified the university’s F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine as a top-tier medical school in its “Best Graduate Schools 2014” rankings released last week.
USU’s primary-care program ranked 39th among 126 medical schools, and its research programs ranked 55th.
In addition, the university’s nurse anesthesia master’s degree program ranked fifth in the nation. Its partner program, run by the Army in San Antonio, maintained the No. 1 ranking it has held for the past several years.
Dr. Brian V. Reamy, USU’s associate dean of faculty and family medicine professor, said during a telephone interview that the medical school’s first appearance on the respected graduate-school rankings list is further affirmation of its accomplishments over the 40 years since its founding.
The American Academy of Family Physicians, the largest U.S. physician specialty society, has recognized the university’s family medicine department has one of the nation’s top 10 for the past three years, he reported.
USU is unique among medical schools, as it produces highly trained medical professionals for both the military and the Public Health Service, Reamy said. Students arrive with a commitment to military or federal service and the men and women in uniform they will care for, often in harm’s way.
About 40 percent of USU’s graduates go into primary care, about twice the percentage of those at other medical schools, Reamy said. “From its founding, the Uniformed Services University has really had a focus and attention to excellence in primary care – family medicine, pediatrics and general international medicine,” he said. “Over the years, that focus has not changed, but it has become a little more publicly known.”
In addition, the university distinguishes itself with a heavy emphasis on preventive medicine and research directly relevant to the military: traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, emerging infectious diseases and combat casualty care, he said.
The National Science Foundation recognized USU as one of the nation’s top medical schools to receive federal research funding over the past 10 years. Reamy called that a testament to the quality of its programs. “You get federal research funding because you are doing excellent research,” he said.
The U.S. News and World Report ranking, he said, “recognizes the unique role that USU is playing in terms of providing research in areas that directly affect the health and welfare of the military, but also have secondary benefits across medicine in the United States.”
Navy Cmdr. Robert Hawkins, director of the nurse anesthesia program within the Graduate School of Nursing, also spoke by telephone with American Forces Press Service and said the program’s high rankings in the new report recognize the quality of the professionals it produces.
A demanding curriculum that combines scientific concepts and extensive clinical practice prepares students to operate as independent practitioners. That will be critical, he said, particularly because most students deploy within nine months of graduation.
While savoring recognition for its masters-degree-level nurse anesthesia program, USU is preparing to transition to a doctoral program this spring, Hawkins reported. That transition, based on American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommendations, will extend the program from 30 to 36 months.
The first doctoral-level class will arrive at USU in May and graduate two years later.
Hawkins said he’s optimistic this next step in the program will further enhance the bedside care military nurse anesthetists provide – whatever care their patients need, and wherever that care is provided.
One individual at a time, he said, they will have a profound impact on military medicine.
“When you have practitioners with the best skill sets, trained in the best way in the best environment, the chances of changing the health-care system one patient at a time will have a profound impact overall,” he said.