Military reserve medics receive valuable training in Charlottetown

Mitch MacDonald
Published on February 9, 2014

More than 30 reserve members of the Canadian Forces received some valuable training at Holland College's Charlottetown campus this past weekend.

Members of the 33rd Field Ambulance, mostly from Halifax although some from P.E.I., utilized the paramedic facilities at the Centre for Applied Science and Technology on Saturday and Sunday.

Brent Nicholson, a faculty member of the college's paramedicine programs, said areas reviewed included controlling airways, starting IVs and learning how to get air out of chest tubes during lung trauma.

"They're also doing some simulations to integrate all the things we're teaching today," said Nicholson.

Lt. Col. Keith David Sawatzky said the lessons were "basically the bread and butter" of what the unit trains for.

The unit provides medical coverage for reserve training but also must be available as a backup for civilian authorities during a major disaster.

"The training the medics are doing today is exactly what they might have to do in real life so it's critical," said Sawatzky. "It has to be repeated on a regular basis because the majority of medics are university students so it's not like they do this during their day-to-day activities. You have to repeat it periodically or it gets rusty, very quickly."

The connection between the reserve unit and Holland College lies partially through medical officer Major Trevor Jain.

In addition to being an emergency room doctor at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Jain is also the college's paramedicine medical director.

"You would be hard pressed to find training for reserve field ambulances of this quality and the access to this facility (anywhere else) in Canada," said Jain. "There are some facilities in bigger centers but certainly the depth of staff and expertise we're able to provide on the Island is a great opportunity for our field ambulances to train in."

Nicholson said it's not uncommon for paramedic programs to work together with the military.

A similar training session was held at the college last year.

"Traditionally we've worked together in the past for different reasons with the same goals of treating trauma and medicine," said Nicholson. "They (the reservists) come well prepared and are really engaged. They're a lot of fun to teach."

Sawatzky said the unit's other option for training would be a facility operated by the military in Quebec.

"For us to go to Quebec and train, you're talking very expensive plane tickets. Economically, it's a much better deal for us to drive over here and spend the weekend," he said. "There's two sides of it, partially its Dr. Jain's connection with the unit so we actually have access to the facility, instructors and can organize the training. But it's also a good opportunity to get away from Halifax so we can get to know each other better.

Sawatzky said the unit hopes to continue training at the centre annually.

"The people in a reserve unit change over quite quickly," he said. "We always have a new crop of medics who have not been exposed to this before and even the ones who did it last year, it's not a problem, it's more than worth repeating every year."