“Doc Ops” training plunges residents into hands-on first responder experience

Residents post on a fire truck with faculty and advanced practice providers. Photo by Tara Lohmeier.

Emergency department physicians indirectly work with first responders to care for patients every day, meeting at the literal doorway to the hospital—the emergency department ambulance entrance. But how well does every physician understand the others’ work? First-year emergency medicine residents sought to answer that question, trading in their white coats and scrubs for firefighter turnout gear to participate in the Department of Emergency Medicine’s annual “Doc Ops” training, conducted in partnership with the City of Madison Fire Department (MFD) at Fire Station 14 on Madison’s near east side.

“It’s an incredible experience,” said Megan Gussick, MD, medical director for Madison Fire Department.

Now in its 12th year, the University of Wisconsin Department of Emergency Medicine’s Doc Ops program demonstrates the value of non-traditional fieldwork for emergency medicine residents. One of only a handful of first responder immersion programs of its kind in the United States, our Doc Ops training affords residents the incomparable opportunity to “walk in the boots” of local firefighters and paramedics. Residents are supervised by MFD 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 out-of-hospital emergency responders and health care providers work to get patients to the emergency department.

“We know that a robust prehospital program facilitates life-saving medicine,” said Michael Lohmeier, MD, emergency medical services (EMS) section chief, BerbeeWalsh Department of Emergency Medicine. “The key to a good program is excellent communication, which is built on understanding and respect of everyone’s roles.” 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 hospital. The collaboration allows residents to become more familiar with the challenges faced by EMS personnel when performing out-of-hospital care, including the types of illnesses and injuries that can befall emergency responders.

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Photo by Tara Lohmeier.
A resident uses the “jaws of life” to simulate extricating a patient from a crashed vehicle. Photo © Department of Emergency Medicine.