This February, I took a giant step closer to becoming an expedition doctor.
As a former Close Protection team member, Royal Marines Commando Officer and BBC high-risk operations advisor, I believe I've built up a broad knowledge of medical emergency planning for remote and austere environments.
However, having since left that world, and on the path to studying medicine - I decided I should ‘sanity test’ my dreams to check it’s really the path I want to go down. Medicine isn’t a cheap and easy option; I fully expect to finish 4 or 5 years of study with around £55,000 of debt that I anticipate paying off well into my fifties (I’ll hopefully be starting med school at 35 years old – the age when most people are well underway with their career).
After considering a Medicine in Remote Area (MIRA) course, I settled upon the highly regarded Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) – a higher level of training that includes actual clinical time (whereby you are working in a hospital with real patients).
The EMT is not a protected title in the same way that a doctor, nurse or paramedic are – however it does give you the skills to help any of the three; you can perform a number of basic functions that frees up the professional to consider the patent holistically. You often see EMTs working alongside the paramedic whenever you call for ambulance (often carrying the oxygen cylinder!).
After a protracted period of research, speaking to friends and asking around; I stumbled upon a company called ‘PPA international’ based in Aalborg, Northern Denmark. Their course looked amazing – genuine hard theory mixed with real world scenarios in a bespoke training facility – I signed up within minutes.
Fast forward 4 weeks and 5 of us turn up at the training centre and set about getting to know each other over coffee. Mostly ex-military of different countries; Brits, Australians, Germans and Danish, we were now united by a common passion for emergency medicine in challenging environments.
The course started in earnest with theory on anatomy, physiology and pharmacology, which would become increasingly more relevant as we learnt to remedy the range of issues we might encounter. Our instructor, Lars – a highly knowledgeable German Army paramedic, enthusiastically brought the material to life through his own experiences.
After a few days of classroom-based theory, the course moves into more trauma-focused training bringing practical sessions in with it. Each day begins with taking vitals and practicing the primary survey (that would become increasingly more detailed as the course progressed). We’d soon be learning how to deliver fluids intravenously and intraosseously (through the bone marrow), how to remedy a tension pneumothorax and how to administer different types of airways to an unconscious casualty.
The course culminates in 2 days of scenario training using live actors and hyper-realistic dummies with the full gamut of injuries that we’d been taught to deal with; the 5 of us hungry to practice our new skills!
After a demanding 10 days, we’re exhausted but ecstatic; sitting at the airport – our hands and fingernails stained with fake blood; we’re enjoying a strong Danish beer and laughing over the how we’d all reacted throughout the various trauma scenarios. Hours later we’d be falling asleep on our flights and returning to ‘normality’ to continue our lifelong learning as fresh-faced ‘EMTs’.