Royal Australian Navy Lt. Craig Blackburn guides Cambodian medical personnel on the proper placement of electrocardiogram sensors during a June 23 professional nursing exchange. (U.S. Navy/MCC Greg Badger)

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia - The Pacific Partnership nursing team is providing a practical demonstration of interoperability with eight days of professional and practical exchanges with Cambodian medical professionals, with both sides taking away tangible information.

"Pacific Partnership gives us an understanding of what resources these countries have so when we come back for a real disaster relief mission, we have an idea of what they have and how we can work together," said Royal Australian Navy Lt. Greg Blackburn, nursing officer and one of nine Australians participating in this year's Pacific Partnership. "The Cambodians have asked us to teach them how to get the best out of their equipment. We are taking away a cultural understanding of how the Cambodians conduct business."

The primary concerns the Cambodian medical professionals asked to be addressed included viral illnesses, minor illnesses, and cardiac events. Among the activities conducted were a Japanese medical team teaching basic lifesaving skills training and a U.S. Navy physician providing a lecture on the history and importance of hygiene and sanitation, while U.S. and Australian nurses taught general nursing skills, including physical assessments, observations skills, and how to use and read electrocardiogram (ECG) machines.

"I teach basic ECG interpretations, such as how to recognize basic rhythms that will give an indication of what the medical professional needs to do to manage the patient both within the facility with existing equipment and to help organize transport to a larger hospital," said Blackburn.

During a trauma and primary care course taught by Japanese medical professionals, the students had an opportunity to learn hands-on.

"The students have a basic skill in trauma care and when we teach, their skill is raised," said Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Cmdr. Takayuki Kurokawa, part of the Pacific Partnership medical team. "The students participated well and were very eager to learn."

"We were extremely happy to learn this experience from the Japanese medical personnel," said Ensign Loch Saroth, a nurse's assistant in the Royal Cambodian Navy. "The interaction between both sides went very smoothly."

Even as they were the teachers, the Pacific Partnership nursing team had much to learn from the Cambodian medical professionals, particularly as it applies to disaster recovery.

"We are taking away a greater appreciation for the basic stuff. In the face of advanced equipment, we tend to lose the focus on the patient and become focused on the task," said Blackburn. "This lets me become client focused - where we stop focusing on the equipment and get back to basic skills. After all, sometimes equipment fails."

This fact is particularly true in responding to a disaster recovery mission, such as the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia that became the impetus for Pacific Partnership, where hospitals and clinics were destroyed.

"In a disaster relief situation, we may not have the equipment, so we must be able to use the limited resources we can," said Blackburn.

Pacific Partnership is in its ninth iteration and is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Asia-Pacific region.