A life critical capability for Defence Force medical units is the medical evacuation by military aircraft and the care of patients onboard during transit to land-based hospitals, which is the reason that RAAF medical squadrons practise their procedures and skills in preparation for an actual MEDEVAC operation.
Medical evacuation teams are called on regularly for humanitarian relief missions, when people need to be evacuated, some of whom may be injured. Of course, the primary role of such teams is the evacuation and care of Defence personnel who may have been injured during warlike or other operations.
Flight Lieutenant Tassie Smith, nursing officer and instructor within the Health Operational Conversion Unit (HOCU) shared with LifeStyle Queensland the importance of the latest Aeromedical Evacuation (AME) and Military Critical Care Team (MCAT) Courses.
While Amberley is home to the No 3 Aero-Medical Evacuation Squadron (3AMES), any medical personnel in the RAAF may be called up for AME duties.
Learning to work across aircraft such as the C-130J Hercules, C-27J Spartan and C-17A Globemaster allows AME and MCAT students to prepare for real-life situations.
“Learning things like working around aircraft and working with the aircrew; liaising with them and definitely getting to experience flying and operating in the air is so different to operating on the ground – and these are really important skills to learn,” FLTLT Smith said.
“Medical personnel are a lot more isolated in the air than when they are on the ground, so it’s important for them to utilise the equipment they have with them and the other personnel they’re with.”
The course, which runs for four weeks for AME students and two weeks for MCAT students began at RAAF Base Richmond where AME students learned the theory around retrievals and aero-medical evacuations before doing practical work in a C-130 and C-27. Later, they worked within a cargo compartment training environment of a C-17 airlifter.
The MCAT students first flying mission required them to fly to Amberley onboard a C-27 and manage five AME ‘patients’ and two critical care ‘patients’.
FLTLT Smith said the students were given the same amount of information they would get when preparing for a real life aeromedical evacuation, and were given one day before to prepare equipment and personnel before taking off to Amberley.
“They’re given a time when they can start preparing and a doors close time as well, when they have to have everything loaded on the aircraft, strapped in and ready to go,” she said.
“Once we’re in the air, we run through some pretty basic scenarios, like the patient has pain or bleeding, and then we usually run through some form of resuscitation scenario as well. This is where one of the patients deteriorates in flight and they have to be able to manage that within their team, liaise with the aircrew as well in case the aircraft needs to be diverted.”
Being an instructor within HOCU for four years means FLTLT Smith has seen the direct benefits of this training in real time scenarios.
“I think it’s a really good course,” she said.
“We get really positive feedback and you can see it coming to fruition as well when people that have been students on the course are conducting AME’s in real time, so you definitely see how well the course works.”