July 2nd, 2006 04:05 EST
Course trains medics to save lives in the air by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Larlee
BROOKS CITY-BASE, Texas (AFPN) -- Sweat runs into the student's eyes, blurring his vision as he strains to read the screen displaying his patient's vital signs.
Loud engine noise disorients him and makes it hard to communicate with his two team members. It makes for a tense situation because a wrong move means the end of the line for their patient.
The situation is something students of the Critical Care Air Transport Team Course here experience. The 10-day course, taught by a team of five instructors, prepares students for helping to transport critical patients aboard Air Force aircraft. Teams monitor patients all the way to the hospital that can treat them.
Teams routinely accompany critical patients from Iraq and Afghanistan to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. From Ramstein, medics transport them to nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Teams may also accompany patients to stateside bases.
"Our class is about team building and flawless point-to-point handoff of patients," said course director Lt. Col. Stephen Fecura Jr. "Our duty days can be anywhere from 16 to over 24 hours of being awake and managing our patient. The work is difficult but is extremely rewarding."
Students stay on the cutting edge of medical tactics and equipment.
A full-sized C-130 Hercules trainer helps simulate the difficulty of treating a patient in flight. Instructors are able to pipe in more than 100 decibels of engine noise to give their students a realistic challenge.
The simulated patients the students treat are $40,000 dummies that are the closest thing to real patients. Wired with the latest electronics, instructors can input wirelessly many different scenarios into the simulated patient. The dummies have a pulse, and the tongue can even swell up, forcing the students to work around it.
The simulated patients also display all vital signs and can "die" if the students administer the wrong medicine or a wrong dose of medicine.
In addition to top-notch technology, guest speakers give students face time with some of the most accomplished professionals in the medical community, the colonel said.
The instructors are always looking to expand their knowledge as well. One such opportunity is participating in a video teleconferencing session attended by medics in 12 time zones. The forum is used to discuss the latest developments in medical expertise.
"We strive to bring our students the freshest information available," Colonel Fecura said.
The local military community assists in the course as well.
"With only five instructors this course would not happen without the assistance of the local military organizations," Colonel Fecura said. "Brooke Army Medical Center even loans us an ambulance bus and two Army medics during one day of our instruction."
To say the students of the class are diverse is an understatement.
The class has included members of the Air Force, Army, Navy, NASA and other federal agencies and students from other countries. One student in the class that graduated June 30 was a colonel from the Netherlands. Students also have a wide range of experience levels; everybody from an Airman straight out of technical school to an officer with more than 20 years of military service has attended the course.
The majority of students in the class will immediately use the skills they learned.
"I'm pretty honored to be here and to be able to pass my experience and knowledge on to the students, many of whom will be downrange within six months using what they learned here," said Maj. John Baer, flight nurse course instructor. "Keeping your head in the game when it gets tough and to always keep safety first are the main points I try to drive home to my students."
The course is not the end of training for students, Colonel Fecura said. One of the last lectures the students receive is about continuing and expanding their knowledge and expertise.
The course and other medical training has helped enhance the success rate of medics getting patients to care facilities for more definitive treatment.
"Since the era of Vietnam we have reduced the mortality rate associated with war inflicted wounds by 180 percent," Colonel Fecura said.