Medical Challenge 2016. EMJ

If you were at SMACC this year, or the last college conference, you’ll be aware of developments in pre-hospital schemes throughout the UK. In particular, Northern Ireland is undergoing a pre-hospital revolution. Plans afoot for a HEMS programme, increasing awareness and involvement from doctors, and university schemes forming to enable students to gain experience and skills in pre-hospital care. One such programme, at Queen’s University Belfast, won a medical competition led by the British Army in Northern Ireland, which is a fantastic achievement. I had a chat with Stephen McKenna, a nursing student from Queen’s University Belfast, to find out what the medical challenge is, and a bit more about the pre-hospital care programme at the university.

Chris: Hi Stephen, thanks for talking to me. Tell me about your group.

Stephen: We are the Pre-Hospital Care Society, a society set up at Queen’s University Belfast by pioneering medical students in 2014 in response to the growing interest in pre-hospital care, particularly emergency care. We’ve grown in membership and our new committee now includes both nursing and medical students, which is reflective of those involved in pre-hospital care. Our main aim is to raise the profile of pre-hospital care in NI, as well as to teach life saving skills to members of the public where possible.

The QUB pre-hospital team recently won the medical challenge, can you tell me a bit more about the challenge itself?

The medical challenge is a yearly event organised by the Army. It runs over an entire day and involves a series of mini medical scenarios, most often under pressure and in an environment that you just wouldn’t get in a hospital or university. We had everything from catastrophic bleeds, cave rescues and gun shot wounds – all obviously staged!

How did you hear about it?

This is a popular event in the NI medical calendar. Each year, hospitals from across NI submit a team to take part. I did it last year and was determined to get members from the society involved this year, because it’s a unique experience. Spaces are limited as many teams want in on the action. The Army have provided us with invaluable support throughout the year and they made sure we knew the event was running.

What was your role on the team?

As the old saying goes, there is no ‘I’ in team, so with that in mind it was a team effort from the outset! I merely organised the teams before we set out. Although only one leader was needed, we decided that everyone should have the chance to lead a scenario. We selected the person with the relevant skills to lead the team each time. We feel this was a critical decision which led to the win. In a pre-hospital environment, the most appropriate person should always be in charge!

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How did your team prepare, did you have support from healthcare professionals?

Throughout the year we run free training events for our members. Everything from catastrophic bleeding workshops, lectures on frostbite, and using trauma equipment at accidents. This meant we were well skilled and prepared from the outset. Our team was made up of students, junior doctors and a paramedic! You can’t get a better skills mix than that.

What was it like on the day, what did you have to do?

Full on! The scenarios are based around a military theme so you can imagine the stress we faced. Each scenario was timed, so we had to act quickly, communicate efficiently and work as a team. We had a brief before each task and were assessed by leading trauma specialists on how well we completed it, and more importantly if the casualty survived!

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How did you celebrate your win?

What happens on camp, stays on camp! But let’s just say the army’s hospitality wasn’t wasted on us!

What’s next for the pre-hospital group from QUB?

Our newly elected committee has planned an array of exciting events. We have so many fantastic sessions lined up, even a maternity evening! The support from professionals in Northern Ireland has been overwhelming. We have a great network of people who have offered their skills and expertise. We’re currently planning one of our biggest and most exciting events to date – a ‘sim-lecture’ on campus. We’ve organised a live casualty extrication demo from a simulated car crash on campus, where we aim to highlight the importance of road safety and the work of pre-hospital emergency responders. This event will be built into the Freshers’ week and has been kindly supported by the university and students union. Watch this space!

Stephen and the group are always keen to hear from anyone who’d like to talk at their events, so get in touch if you can help.


Thanks to Stephen and the committee for providing photographs, which have been used with permission.



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