Air angels join LifeFlight's ranks

RIGOROUS: Dr Thomas Holland is put through his training before taking his place on the front line of emergency medicine with LifeFlight.
RIGOROUS: Dr Thomas Holland is put through his training before taking his place on the front line of emergency medicine with LifeFlight. Contributed

THOMAS Holland grew up in remote Borneo and says seeing countless childhood friends being airlifted by air ambulances to health care overseas inspired him to become a flight doctor years later.

Dr Holland is one of 24 new doctors from around the globe who has swapped hospitals for helicopters as they they take up positions as air retrieval registrars on LifeFlight aircraft across Queensland.

A rigorous two-week training program at LifeFlight's Training Academy prepared the new recruits for life on the frontline of emergency medicine.

As part of their training, the doctors were thrown in the deep end - literally - during Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) just days after being suspended several metres in the air during live winch training.

Dr Holland and colleagues get some hands-on experience.
Dr Holland and colleagues get some hands-on experience. Contributed

They also retrieved crash test dummies from mock car crash scenarios and practised roadside surgeries to ensure they were familiar with all situations encountered out in the field.

Dr Holland said his childhood in Borneo "planted the seed” that inspired his LifeFlight role.

"After I started my career in emergency medicine, the appeal of air-medical retrievals was more the professional and intellectual challenges it entailed,” he said.

Another professional challenge for Dr Holland came in 2011 when he worked as a junior receiving doctor at Brisbane Airport, treating patients affected by Cyclone Yasi in Cairns.

He did the same in 2015 in Vanuatu, assessing Australian citizens in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam. 

"These experiences were useful insights for me into multi-agency disaster response,” Dr Holland.

"Working for LifeFlight is a great chance to work in the emergency medicine field with a respected organisation.”

AIRBORN: New members of the LIfeFlight team get a taste of what their futures hold.
AIRBORN: New members of the LIfeFlight team get a taste of what their futures hold. Contributed

With no previous air-medical experience, he said his biggest challenge would be working in isolation, both in a physical sense and away from the resources of a hospital system.

"Emergency departments are chaotic places sometimes, but the setting is always familiar,” he said.

"Needing to be adaptable to the changing environment with every task will be a big point of difference.”

While Dr Holland will be based at LifeFlight's Brisbane rescue base, his fellow doctors among the new intake will be stationed at aero-medical bases around Queensland including the Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, Townsville, Mackay, Cairns and Rockhampton.

"Every day in the life of our doctors is completely different and brings new challenges,” LifeFlight's Director of Training and Education, Dr Jeff Hooper said.

"One day they could be winched down the side of a cliff, the next they're at the scene of a car crash or winching an injured patient off the back of a cruise ship 150km out to sea.

"The weeks of training prepare them for almost every scenario they might encounter on the choppers.”

The role of a LifeFlight doctor is a highly sought-after position in the medical field, with doctors travelling from all over the world to save Queensland lives.

"Doctors join us for six month rotations and this intake has seen doctors come all the way from the UK, Sweden, Brazil, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands to work at aeromedical bases around Queensland,” Dr Hooper said.

LifeFlight doctors not only fly on board LifeFlight helicopters and jets but also on other air-medical operators including the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), CQ Rescue, Capricorn Rescue and QGAir.

Last financial year, LifeFlight doctors across the network treated a total of 4700 patients locally and abroad, a significant increase of more than 700 additional patients in 2015-16.

"Our doctors are busier than ever, providing clinical coverage to 10 bases with reach to anywhere in Queensland and interstate or internationally as required,” Dr Hooper said.

"We're proud to say that LifeFlight is the only community helicopter provider in Queensland which provides its own doctors on board its own aircraft.

"The recent training week really put the doctors through their paces. We're pleased to say they all passed with flying colours.”

Topics:  helicopter rescue service lifeflight

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