Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC): A medical perspective
Article / August 11, 2016
By: Captain Christopher Brown, Flight Surgeon, 32 CF Health Services Centre (Toronto)
The first thing most people think of when RIMPAC is mentioned is the flotilla of navy ships, and the thousands of sailors and soldiers from different countries descending on Hawaii—which was incredible to see; however, I have had the opportunity to see this exercise from a medical perspective, and what a fantastic opportunity it has been!
My name is Captain Christopher Brown. I am a Flight Surgeon in the Canadian Armed Forces. This is a historical title, which means that I am a doctor in the military, with additional qualifications in aviation medicine (not that I complete surgery while flying in the back of an airplane, which admittedly would be much cooler). At home, I work at 32 CF Health Services Centre in Toronto, Ontario.
My role at RIMPAC 2016, which took place from June 30 to August 4, was two-fold: first, as a primary care physician for the approximately 1500 Canadian troops deployed on the exercise; and second, in the role of an aviation doctor, working with our pilots and aircrew in relation to both medical and safety issues. I worked with a team of two other doctors, five medical technicians (“medics”) and an administrator. We worked together to provide care and respond to medical issues for Canadian sailors, soldiers, divers, and aircrew in multiple locations on a daily basis.
RIMPAC 16 was filled with unique opportunities for myself and my team.
Within the greater RIMPAC program, there were a number of medical seminars and programs aimed at education on various health-related topics, discussing the capabilities of different countries’ forces and the various types of platforms in each fleet, and discussing unique and shared experiences, as well as lessons learned on different exercises and operations. There were courses and sessions on humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR), underwater medicine, casualty evacuation and pre-hospital care and even traditional Chinese medicine, to name a few.
The goals of the medical sessions were to promote continued medical education, and the understanding of what each country is capable of accomplishing in terms of health care, both on land and at sea. We had the opportunity to visit American, Australian, and Chinese ships and tour their medical facilities. From the smallest frigates with a single room as the medical bay, to the USS America with its operating suites, resuscitation bays, intensive care unit and imaging suites, the capabilities of each platform were very different.
The most unique opportunity that I experienced was a medical officer exchange with the Australian Navy’s HMAS Canberra. I spent a little over a week embarked on the ship, working alongside the Australian naval and army medical teams on board. The ship is an amphibious assault ship, launched in November 2014 (it still has the new ship smell—yes, that’s a thing!). It has a flight deck capable of handling helicopters and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, as well as a well dock allowing boats, landing craft, and hovercrafts to enter and dock within the ship. Needless to say, this is a very impressive vessel. No less impressive, and much more central to the purpose of my experience, was the medical facility. With a full resuscitation bay, two operating rooms, an eight-bed intensive care unit, X-ray and ultrasound equipment, pharmacy and dental on board, the ship has fantastic medical capabilities.
As a Canadian flight surgeon, I had the opportunity to integrate directly into the onboard team. I was able to take part in patient care, participate in the medical component of the ship-wide emergency response drills, provide medical and aeromedevac training to the ship’s medical personnel, and observe the similarities and differences between the Canadian and Australian Health Service Forces. I got to play tourist as well, seeing the various aircraft and ships operate, touring the engineering facilities on board, and watching a resupply at sea (RAS), where the ship was refueled while sailing parallel to the freighter, and five helicopters were hoisting cargo from the freighter to two other ships on either side.
Beyond being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it was exactly what RIMPAC is about—interoperability between the personnel from different countries, working alongside each other towards a common goal. I learned about their training programs, the positions which their health care personnel hold and their scopes of practice, which are a little different from our own. We shared experiences and strategies for addressing the common challenges that are inherent in caring for military personnel. I met peers and colleagues and made friends that I would be excited to work with in the future.
RIMPAC was an incredible experience, and the exchange made it ever more so. I consider myself very lucky to have had these opportunities, and will always remember them. But for now, the focus is on wrapping up the deployment, getting everyone home safely, and heading back home to Canada!
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