Revamped Flight Medic Training
Good news. Enhanced Flight Medic Training Begins
After over a decade of urgent calls for upgraded training of Army flight medics, it has begun. This article provides some details of what is involved. As noted, Army statistics have long shown that wounded troops rescued by National Guard MEDEVAC crews have a 66% higher chance of survival than if they were rescued by Regular Army MEDEVAC crews. This difference is directly attributable to the level of training attained by the crews and prior trauma experience. Most National Guard flight medics are paramedics in their civilian life, so they have more extensive training as well as daily contact with trauma victims. Even civilian paramedics, however, need additional training to handle military war casualties.
The other area of good news is that flight medics also will be trained for en route critical care of stabilized patients. What most people don’t realize is that a huge percentage of MEDEVAC flights entail the transfer of wounded troops from one level medical treatment facility (MTF) to another. These patients often are hooked up to various types of medical/life sustaining equipment which the typical flight medic is not trained on or certified to use. As a result there is a substantial risk to many patients during the transfer flight that their condition may seriously deteriorate. The Army attempted to address this with the assignment of en route critical care nurses, but as was reported by Col. Robert Mabry in his after action report in 2011 – those nurses had not been properly trained (indeed, many were unaware that they would be assigned to helicopter rather than ground transfer duties) and suffered from weak leadership in the field.
These much delayed positive changes should be acknowledged and applauded. However, I was informed by someone close to the MEDEVAC program that no special program was in place to assure that Regular Army MEDEVAC flight medics scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in the next year would be enrolled in the enhanced training program before deployment. It is interesting that the early enrollees appear to be among the National Guard crews already providing the higher level of care and achieving the higher survival rates for their patients. Wouldn’t have made sense initially to maximize the number of Regular Army flights medics getting this training – especially those going to the combat zone? [If someone can provide updated information about enrollment policies and timelines, I would appreciate it.]
Note the comment from Army Master Sgt. Kym Ricketts, chief medical non-commissioned officer with the Army National Guard, “It’s advanced, pre-hospital medical care.” The term pre-hospital care is relatively unknown but includes all the medical care provided to the wounded from the time of injury to the time the patient is in the hands of medical staff at a medical treatment facility. MEDEVAC is but one portion of the spectrum of pre-hospital care for the wounded. As discussed in How the Army is slow to meet MEDEVAC Challenges in the 21st Century this also covers Tactical Combat Casualty Care training and doctrine, as well as pre-hospital care trauma registries that track the wounded and their care discussed in US Army Report: 2011 After action report blasts MEDEVAC shortcomings.
The article follows:
Army National Guard medics among first to attend revamped flight medic program
By Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va. – Medics from the Army National Guard are among those taking part in a pilot program designed to revamp the training that flight medics throughout the Army will receive.
Taught at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the program will provide flight medics with additional paramedic and critical care training and certifications.
“A paramedic provides a higher level of care,” said Army Master Sgt. Kym Ricketts, chief medical non-commissioned officer with the Army National Guard. “It’s advanced, pre-hospital medical care.”
Currently, to be a flight medic, a soldier must be a qualified combat medic and be in a flight medic slot, but since flight medics operate under different conditions those requirements are changing to reflect that.
“The medics need additional training as flight medics as they do a higher standard of care and in a different environment than a line medic on the ground,” Ricketts said.
The program is designed to emphasize that fact and focus on training soldiers on those additional skills needed as a flight medic.
As part of the pilot program and proposed changes, soldiers go through three phases of training specific to flight medic duty.
“The first one is the flight medic phase,” Ricketts said, adding that it can be waivered in lieu of on-the-job training. “Phase two is the nationally registered paramedic [course], which is the longest phase, and phase three is the critical care transport piece.”
The push for making changes to flight medic requirements came from a number of elements, including a study done on a California Army National Guard medical evacuation unit that deployed to Afghanistan with full-fledged paramedics in flight medic positions.
“[The study found that with] having flight paramedics in the back of an aircraft there was a 66 percent higher survivability rate than with a straight [combat medic] that wasn’t paramedic trained,” Ricketts said.
Additionally, proposed changes to the flight medic requirements also mean that graduates of the program walk away with national certifications as paramedics. That provides additional benefits including a greater flexibility with integrating with local, state and other agencies in a disaster situation, she said.
“A citizen-soldier can do their wartime mission as well as their peacetime mission of taking care of their community,” Ricketts said, adding that those certifications are the same received by civilian paramedics.
But the important part, she said, is simply providing the best care possible.
“The benefit is the best battlefield medicine and care that a soldier can get,” she said.
“With the forward surgical teams that are out there casualties are actually having surgical intervention on the ground at the point of injury,” Ricketts said. “Combined with these medics that are able to have this training … the [casualty] will be getting the best standard of care.”
The pilot program wraps up later in the year and will then go through a review process.
“It’s still a pilot program and once the pilot program is through we’ll do an analysis to see what works best,” she said.
Ricketts remains positive about the results of the program.
“These medics are going to affect so many people,” she said. “Not just American forces, but coalition forces as well, and that’s amazing.”