Special Ops medics training at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center

They call themselves quiet professionals -- an elite, highly trained group of military experts known for their strength, stealth and speed. Some of their training is coming from doctors and nurses at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.  Now through June 22, twenty-five Special Operations Combat Medic trainees are rotating through various departments at VCU, soaking up as much medical experience as possible before they deploy around the world.

The VCU Medical Center is one of only four institutions in the country opening its doors to the medic trainees and was selected by the Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center (JSOMTC) as a training site due in large part to the high volume mix of trauma patients and critical care teaching capability at VCU - Central Virginia's only Level I trauma center. 

While the SOCM trainees have had core courses like physiology and anatomy, this is the first time they have diagnosed and treated real patients. Until now, their only practice performing basic and advanced medical procedures has been on each other and mannequins. And just like medical residents, the trainees are constantly supervised by doctors and nurses.

"The medics have integrated very rapidly into our training much as a resident or paramedic would," said Kevin Ward, M.D., associate professor of emergency medicine in VCU's School of Medicine and medical director of the training program at VCU. "We're pleased the JSOMTC is willing to send their best and brightest here to learn from us.  The professionalism these young medics have demonstrated during their intensive training at VCU is absolutely amazing given the fact that many will shortly be in harms way. "

This is the second time SOCM trainees have visited VCU - the first group came through in March. Each group will perform a number of 12-hour shifts in the emergency department and also rotate through the surgical trauma intensive care unit, the operating rooms, the Evans- Haynes Burn Center, and labor and delivery.

The medics will hone their skills in advanced wound care, suturing, intravenous (IV) access, emergency airway management, and other procedures designed to save the lives of wounded soldiers or civilians. They will participate as members of the trauma team during the evaluation and initial management of a trauma case.

"We've seen a variety of cases in a short period of time - things we don't typically see in the military," said Sgt. Timothy Bates, a Special Forces Medical Sergeant candidate. "This experience will go a long way in teaching us what we need to do in a situation where we may be the only medical personnel around for hundreds of miles."

The goal at the completion of their 49 weeks of training is for medics to be able to stabilize and maintain a critically injured comrade or civilian for 72 hours in sometimes-hostile field conditions. The skills they will possess will make them significantly more advanced than that of a paramedic.

"The entire SOCM training program is very intense. Basically these guys are getting fed information with a fire hose...we put them through stressful medical scenarios and they are tested academically or hands-on constantly," said Sgt. First Class, Lou Savo, who supervised the SOCM trainees at VCU in March.

VCU plans to train four or five groups of medics each year.

Other institutions involved in SOCM training include Tampa General Hospital, Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, and Shands Jacksonville Trauma Center, all in Florida.

The training opportunity was made available through the efforts of VCU's Reanimation Engineering Shock Center. VCURES is a collaborative effort among the university's clinicians, scientists and engineers to study the cause, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of acute illness and injury.  It has a dedicated program in combat casualty care research called Operation Purple Heart and has successfully competed for millions of dollars of funding from the Department of Defense for research in this area. 

The JSOMTC, based in Ft. Bragg, N.C., is a state-of-the-art facility that provides training to Army Special Forces, Navy Seals, Army Rangers and other Special Operations Force units.

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