Doc Ops program gives residents first-hand look into prehospital care

Now in its 11th year, the University of Wisconsin Emergency Department’s (ED) “Doc Ops” program is winning praise and demonstrating the value of non-traditional fieldwork for emergency medicine residents.

One of only a handful of immersion programs in the United States, our “Doc Ops Day” gives residents the incomparable opportunity to “walk in the boots” of local firefighters and paramedics. They are supervised by training professionals to flow water onto burning buildings, extricate patients from wrecked vehicles and perform complex search-and-rescue missions. It is a physically demanding challenge that gives insight into how hard our colleagues work just to get patients to the ED.

“It’s an incredible experience,” said Megan Gussick, MD, Medical Director for MFD.

The unique training exercise is a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin Department of Emergency Medicine and the Madison Fire Department. “We know that a robust prehospital program facilitates life-saving medicine,” said Michael Lohmeier, MD, EMS Section Chief for the Department of Emergency Medicine. “The key to a good program is excellent communication, which is built on understanding and respect.” The immersive Doc Ops experience lays the groundwork to achieve this.

The program is designed to give physicians-in-training an up-close look at the critical work that occurs before a patient is transported to the ED. The program also builds a better understanding of the types of illnesses and injuries that can befall the emergency responders themselves.

“We work so closely every day in the ED with the medics and firefighters, and it’s important for us to understand how bringing a patient to the ED can involve many obstacles and hard work,” Gussick said. “Prior to Doc Ops, many of the residents did not realize what hard work it is to just get the patient safely to the ED.” Gussick explained that prehospital care might include extricating a patient from a vehicle by cutting the car away from the patient with heavy machinery “all while making sure that the patient is safe and receiving appropriate medical care.”

The day she participated in Doc Ops, Gussick recalled, was a typical Madison summer day with temperatures in the 90s.

“Just simply wearing the gear I was sweating and after attempting to cut the car apart and away from the ‘patient’ I was dripping sweat and a little shaky,” she said. “This allowed us to understand some of the possible physical exhaustion that emergency responders may suffer and that we may potentially have to treat should they be overcome by the elements including dehydration, smoke inhalation, traumatic injuries, and more.”