Medical squadron commander puts whole patient in focus

Capt. Michael Schultz, a pharmacist temporarily assigned to the Patient Care Clinic at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., welcomes Col. Russell Pinard and Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Castro, commander and superintendent of the 66th Medical Squadron, respectively, to the pharmacy June 7. Pinard and Castro recently took the senior officer and senior enlisted positions with the medical squadron and toured the clinic, familiarizing themselves with the squadron and its Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Benjamin Newell)

Capt. Michael Schultz, pharmacist temporarily assigned to the Patient Care Clinic at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, welcomes Col. Russell Pinard and Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Castro, commander and superintendent of the 66th Medical Squadron, to the pharmacy in the Hanscom patient care clinic June 7, 2017. Pinard and Castro recently took the senior officer and senior enlisted positions with the medical squadron and toured the clinic, familiarizing themselves with the squadron and its Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Benjamin Newell)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- For Hanscom’s newly-minted 66th Medical Squadron commander, Col. Russell Pinard, running his squadron is a return to hands-on medical care.

Pinard, an optometrist, has run both small medical facilities like the 61st Medical Squadron at Los Angeles Air Force Base and been part of a team of medical professionals caring for large numbers of wounded warriors, commanding the 332nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, in 2006. That year saw the second-highest total wounded service members during Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Department of Defense. As a squadron commander at Balad, Pinard served as part of a response team, integrating several medical disciplines into overall and immediate care for severely traumatized patients.

Regardless of stressors on the healthcare staff, he says, providers must remain focused on holistic care of the whole patient.

“Even in private practice, which I did in the 1980s before joining the Air Force, we always worked to keep caretakers integrated, looking at the person, rather than the problem,” said Pinard. “That was a different way of doing things at that time, because sometimes private practices get competitive for patients. What I’ve found is that in a clinic this small, we have to work as a team, building a complete picture of our patients in order to provide the best care.”

The 66th Medical Squadron, which operates Hanscom’s patient clinic, cares for 311,000 beneficiaries with a staff of 157. For comparison, the population of Boston is approximately 600,000. The clinic is directly responsible for all aeromedical services provided to the installation, and more than 220 associated geographically separated units in a seven-state region. Soon, Pinard may be temporarily filling in for the clinic’s current sole optometrist, when she changes station.

“Command is the most rewarding job in the Air Force,” said Pinard. “What I’ve found most effective is the coaching style of leadership, where you focus on the Airmen and facilitate their ability, rather than order people to do things a certain way. I try to tailor my command style so that the professionals here can focus on patient care first. That’s our single most important job.”

Pinard says his focus is on two families – one Air Force and one biological. His eldest daughter demonstrated that these two are linked when she received care at the Hanscom clinic for the first time before joining the Air Force last year.

“This is a contract between our Airmen as providers, our patients and their families,” said Pinard. “We’re community members and caretakers, so the health of all of us enables Hanscom’s mission.”

In addition to primary care, pharmacological services and optometry, the clinic provides radiology, dental care, flight medicine, mental health and pediatrics. Specialized care is accomplished through referrals and agreements with local hospitals, Tricare and the Veteran’s Health Administration.