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Multinational Medical Support to Operations: Challenges, Benefits and Recommendations for the Future
  1. Brigadier RF Cordell, MBA MRCGP MFOM, Head of Medical Strategy and Policy1
  1. Allied Command Operations Medical Advisor and Director of Medical Support, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe
  1. Headquarters Surgeon General, Coltman House, DMS Whittington, Lichfield WS14 9PY robin.cordell180{at}


This paper considers the strategic aspects of medical support to military operations as delivered through multi-national collaboration. The military medical services are in essence a people organisation; the purpose of the organisation is primarily to support the people engaged in military operations, and also the people providing healthcare to them. Increasingly, supporting the latter also includes preparation for the ethical dilemmas that they will face. Providing health advice and healthcare on operations is now usually undertaken on a multinational basis, in order to generate sufficient medical capacity to meet the requirement with assets of the appropriate (and NATO mandated) capability. This will be an enduring feature, particularly in light of increasing costs of providing high quality healthcare and the operational and logistic challenges of delivering this capability in adverse environments, and in the context of medical personnel being a limited resource. The key to overcoming the challenges, often the result of the “people issues” such as cultural differences, is to recognise the value that the inherent diversity of multinational healthcare provision brings. The benefit is realised through sharing best practice, and the lessons from challenges met, as well as through burden sharing, and to understand that challenges are most commonly the result of misunderstandings, such as those inherent in language differences. The advice for those bringing a multinational team together includes considering the implications of culture (noting differences in national and military perspectives, and in medical processes such as clinical governance), to ensure effective communication, and to utilise feedback to confirm understanding. It is important not to prejudge or denigrate others. Share information and knowledge, provide positive reinforcement when things go well, and recognise that there will inevitably be challenges and use these as an opportunity to learn. Above all, the personal touch builds a culture within the multinational team that transcends national culture; celebrating success breeds success and thus optimal outcome for patients.

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