Class gives Ill. National Guard medics more hands-on experience
By Monifa Thomas
The Chicago Sun-Times
CHICAGO — Spec. Christen Rowland has been a medic for the Illinois Army National Guard for two years, and she works for a private ambulance company in her civilian life. But outside of treating minor injuries, the 21-year-old Chicagoan hasn't had many opportunities to put what she learned in the classroom into practice.
She got that chance last week at Rush University Medical Center during a weeklong training course designed to give Illinois Air and Army National Guard medics more hands-on experience in treating the types of wounds they're likely to see in a war zone.
Rowland and 41 others got to ride along on ambulance calls with Chicago Fire Department paramedics, spend time in some of the busiest emergency rooms in the city and triage "trauma victims" with severed limbs and blast wounds on a mock battlefield.
The medics also learned how to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, a common yet undertreated problem in the military.
The battlefield simulations included treating lifelike mannequins that bled, had a pulse and even spoke. After the drills, doctors from Rush offered feedback on the medics' performance.
Rowland, who expects to be deployed to Afghanistan within the next two years, said the simulations "felt a lot more real" than anything she had encountered before.
"I feel much more confident in my abilities than when I started," she said.
Rush has offered training courses for Army medics since 2007, although the Fire Department ride-alongs and other elements are new this year.
For medics with little or no combat experience, a key goal of the course is to desensitize them to trauma injuries, making it easier for them to "keep their head in the game," said Dr. Ed Ward, an emergency room physician at Rush and one of the course instructors.
But even soldiers who have already been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan said the course built on the training they had received from the military.
"It's not the real thing, but it's about as close as you can get," said 2nd Lt. Robert King, an Army medic for six years who was stationed in Baghdad. "I always thought I was a competent medic, but this really elevated me to another level."
"It's a good refresher for those of us who have worked in the field," said Sgt. 1st Class Nancy Tieber-Wiles, a 25-year medic whose battlefield simulation at Rush involved having to maneuver around a live explosive while treating patients.
Three more training sessions for other groups of soldiers are scheduled through January, made possible by $2 million in grant funding secured by Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Danny Davis, Ward said.
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