A Course Less Ordinary

Dylan White talks to Colonel Gerald Kerr about the link between University College Cork and the Irish Defence Forces, making particular reference to the origins of the Diploma in Military Medical Care and the desire to save lives.

The Irish Defence Forces is widely considered a career less ordinary than the rest. Military life consists of more than just being a soldier, sailor or airman. One becomes an integral part of an organisation where you are constantly challenged both physically and mentally to meet the requirements of all military operations you are required to deploy on. A career in the Defence Forces allows one to branch out into numerous and diverse fields, none more so than the Medical Corps.

The origins of the strong academic links between UCC and the Irish Defence Forces arose from the confluence of a couple of considerations.  Firstly, Colonel Gerald Kerr, Director of the Medical Corps (DMC), leaned on the outcome of a number of international military medical meetings involving NATO and Partnership for Peace (PfP) medical experts. As a result, huge emphasis was placed on the need to upgrade medical training, not just for medical personnel, but for all the personnel of the Defence Forces.

[quote text_size=”small”]

University College Cork, recognising the importance of Emergency Medicine, established the first chair in Emergency Medicine in the country. Additionally, Cork University Hospital is the only Level One institution in Ireland, having all the specialities under one roof.

[/quote]

According to Colonel Kerr, The events in Afghanistan and Iraq indicated that no matter how sophisticated your hospital is, if the patient doesn’t survive to get there, your equipment is valueless. The solution to ensuring the successful arrival of a patient in hospital is to optimise the medical care given in the vital first ten minutes following a traumatic incident.  In turn, this creates the need to educate all personnel to a level enabling them to deal effectively with potentially serious situations.  Thus, the Military First Responder (MFR) Course was born.

In the past, military service was seen as a career for life.  Nowadays, however, it may represent only one element of a lifetimes varied working experience.  Training and education gained in the Defence Forces should, ideally, be transferable into the civilian environment, allowing soldiers to pursue other occupations after a number of years’ service.  “In order to prepare soldiers for life outside of the Army, the Defence Forces in collaboration with the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC) incorporated the Cardiac First Responder and the Emergency First Responder modules into the Military First Responder Course”, Colonel Kerr said.

The syllabus for the MFR Course was designed and rolled out in a collaborative association between the Defence Forces and the Cork-based Academy of Emergency Care, an offshoot of the Emergency Department in Cork University Hospital (CUH).  “University College Cork, recognising the importance of Emergency Medicine, established the first chair in Emergency Medicine in the country.  Additionally, Cork University Hospital is the only Level One institution in Ireland, having all the specialities under one roof,” Colonel Kerr added.   An agreement between all parties was soon put in place resulting in the promulgation of the MFR Course to members of the Defence Forces.

[quote text_size=”small”]

The events in Afghanistan and Iraq indicated that no matter how sophisticated your hospital is, if the patient doesn’t survive to get there, your equipment is valueless.

[/quote]

The Defence Forces then began to look at the entry criteria for soldiers who wished to join the Medical Corps of the Defence Forces.  Traditionally, the 2/3* Medics Course was the basic introductory course for medics held in the Medical School of the Defence Forces Training Centre in the Curragh over a twelve week period.  This course served the Defence Forces well over many years but expansion in the nature of medical service delivery increased the educational requirements.

Again, in order to achieve civilian recognition, the Defence Forces studied the PHECC basic practitioner level course.  Thus, the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Course was to become the basis for any new induction course for future medical personnel.  In addition, there was a need to incorporate other elements into the new curriculum which would be of great use to a medic in his/her ‘garrison occupational’ duty, that is the work he/she does in barracks as opposed to the work done when on operational duty either overseas or at home, said Colonel Kerr.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As strides were being made towards creating a Diploma from all the required elements of the curriculum, the Defence Forces sought a tender amongst Ireland’s universities. “The winner of that tender was UCC and the Diploma in Military Medical Care, with its aim of saving lives and a ‘world first’ in terms of military medical education, was born.  The first students commenced their studies in September 2012,” added Colonel Kerr.  The students, who are drawn from the Army, Navy and Air Corps, learn to provide emergency care in a variety of situations including in the field of combat.

The Diploma takes place over one academic year and contains three modules, with one module being delivered exclusively in UCC. The first module encompasses all the PHECC EMT work plus some added elements, while the second module contains experiential work both in CUH and in the Military Medical Facilities.  The training involved in the treatment of trauma is a key feature, along with the day to day activities of the occupational health services offered to military personnel. The third module is largely a military module, conducted in the Defence Forces Training Centre in the Curragh.  Emphasis is placed on medical administration, medical aspects of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) weapons, the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and the various Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols.

At present, the second batch of students are about to begin the Diploma Course in September 2013. However, Colonel Kerr is aware that all expenditure of public funds is subject to close scrutiny, with only the most deserving tender being awarded the contract.  “We live in times where money talks and lack of it leads to silence!  In aligning with any organisation in the furtherance of aspirations, the Defence Forces must operate within constraints. The desire is to optimise the medical training and education of Defence Forces medics and empower them to provide the highest standard of health care possible for all personnel,” Colonel Kerr explained.

Yet, it remains to be seen whether or not UCC has a vital role to play in future plans. Colonel Kerr believes that there are “all sorts of possibilities and opportunities” for the Defence Forces to strengthen its connection with UCC in the years to come:  “I’m a firm advocate of the recognition of military medicine as a specialty in its own right and I’m in discussion with the Medical Counsel with regards to that recognition.”  If successful, this could result in further initiatives at third level, opening up the possibility in the future of further interaction at all levels between the Irish Defence Forces Medical Corps and UCC.

Many thanks to Colonel Gerald Kerr, Director of the Medical Corps, Irish Defence Forces; Mr. Paul Allan, Diploma in Military Medical Care Coordinator, and the Defence Forces Press Office.