Advancing Coast Guard medical training into the 21st century
© Getty Images

For over 225 years, the United States Coast Guard has carried out its multi-faceted missions with quiet heroics. Its traditions of excellence have made it a model that other nations look to when managing their own maritime forces.

Search and Rescue is one of the Coast Guard’s oldest and most important missions.  During 2015 alone, Coast Guard personnel, or “Coasties,” engaged in more than 16,000 of these operations and saved more than 3,500 lives. As Coasties train for these missions and learn how to provide emergency care for an injured human being, it is critical that they rely on the most effective and realistic hands-on training tools.

ADVERTISEMENT
Historically, to simulate injuries that Search and Rescue personnel might encounter at sea, the Coast Guard and other military branches have relied on “live tissue training,” during which sedated pigs or goats are shot or stabbed (and ultimately euthanized). Fortunately, high-tech human simulators are now available as a superior training alternative, eliminating the need for live tissue training.

In fact, simulators are now used by virtually all medical schools and many elite military units because they are a much more effective means of teaching personnel how to provide emergency medical care under realistic conditions in the field.

Skepticism about live tissue training in our military began several years ago.  A spokesperson for the U.S. Army’s Alfred V. Rascon School of Combat Medicine at Fort Campbell said in 2009, “Training on dummies is more realistic to providing care for a person than training on animals.” In 2012, an investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals shed light on the unnecessary use of animals in medical training.

Dr. Alan Liu of the U.S. Medicine Institute for Health Studies put it this way: “In the past, until recently, the traditional method for teaching [Advanced Trauma Life Support] involved animals and cadavers. For various reasons, that’s not really a very good method. Animals obviously have the wrong anatomy.” The availability of effective, anatomically correct human simulators is why I and many of my congressional colleagues support their adoption more broadly, and why so many elements of our military have already ended the use of animals and embraced the more effective technology.

Over time, simulators are less costly because they can be used repeatedly and they allow service members to repeat procedures until they are proficient.  This makes them a particularly attractive training tool in today’s constrained fiscal environment.  A major Department of Defense-funded study recently found that “simulator training would be more cost effective” than live tissue trainings conducted for soldiers, and could save the U.S. Army more than $1 million per year in one course alone.

I have heard from many constituents in support of replacing live tissue training with more effective human simulators.  A 2016 poll conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies found that 80 percent of Americans share this sentiment and want these archaic, animal-based trainings ended. I fully agree, and I have conveyed those concerns directly to Coast Guard leadership.

I am pleased to report that the Coast Guard recently informed me it has suspended all live tissue training pending the conclusion of a six-month study of training alternatives, such as interactive human simulators. The Coast Guard is taking a step in the right direction that I hope will lead to a permanent end to live tissue training.  As the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, I will continue to work with the Coast Guard in support of that goal.

I couldn’t be prouder of the men and women of the Coast Guard, who give us their best efforts every day. It’s time for us to ensure that our Coasties get the best medical simulation training tools we have to offer.

Roybal-Allard is the U.S. Representative for California’s 40th District. She is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.