The next doctor to treat a critically injured patient at Harborview Medical Center may be one preparing for the battlefield.
The Seattle hospital and the U.S. Army announced a new partnership Thursday to train medical professionals from the 250th Forward Resuscitative Surgical Team in trauma care for up to three years.
Harborview is one of seven hospitals in the country participating in the Army Medical Department Military-Civilian Trauma Team Training program.
The hospital is the only level-one trauma center in Washington, and treats patients with traumatic injuries from Alaska, Montana and Idaho. High patient volume makes the facility an ideal site to train, said Dr. Eileen Bulger, Harborview’s chief of trauma.
But the program, she said, also gives civilian hospitals the opportunity to learn from doctors who have worked in combat zones. Emergency and trauma medicine have advanced due to these synergistic environments, she said.
One notable example is the use of whole-blood transfusions, which were pioneered in military settings. The traditional method of using separate bags of red blood cells, plasma and platelets was too resource intensive in combat zones, she said.
While about 10 doctors will eventually be phased into the program at Harborview, two doctors started training in July. One of them is Col. Scott Young, an emergency room physician who previously worked at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“I’ve probably seen more trauma in the last couple of weeks than I’ve seen in the last year,” he said Wednesday. “It’s just a very busy place, unfortunately.”
The program’s mission is to keep all active-duty doctors ready to respond to combat injuries in future deployments, said Young, who has been deployed seven times.
Depending on the deployment, members of a forward surgical team or detachment sometimes wait days or months between treating trauma patients.
“The partnership with Harborview is critical to ensuring that our medical personnel maintain a high level of clinical proficiency and are ready to deploy,” said Cynthia Barrigan, a director at the Army Surgeon General’s Office.
Maj. Alex Malloy, a trauma surgeon, was deployed to Afghanistan this year for only three and a half months before troops were withdrawn. But during that short period, Malloy said he treated plenty of trauma patients, many with gunshot wounds or injuries from improvised explosive devices.
Forward surgical teams care for patients in the time between when a combat medic first tends to a patient and when they are taken to a hospital. That time can be as long as a few hours or days, depending on the weather and level of hostile activity in the area, he said.
Those teams consist of physicians, nurses, surgeons, a combat medic, an anesthetist and an operating room technician.
The environments vary and can quickly become volatile, said Malloy, who added it’s not uncommon for doctors to find themselves operating in warehouses or structures that aren’t temperature-controlled or well-lit.
Malloy also recently started his assignment at Harborview.
The summer “trauma season” keeps the staff so busy that there are often days when it can be hard to find time to use the restroom, he said. The hospital treats a large share of spinal injuries and injuries from car collisions, stabbings and gunshot wounds.
“For the volume of trauma here in Seattle, this is as simulated as a war zone could be, which provides us the opportunity to maintain and improve our clinical skills,” Malloy said.