HERSHEY >> A group of doctors in training at Penn State Hershey Medical Center got a taste of what it would be like to manage a disaster scene Wednesday morning. The Derry Township hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine participated in a series of exercises that simulated a bomb explosion at a marathon.
The Life Lion EMS hangar was a scene of chaos as about 15 medical residents rushed to help the “victims” — volunteer actors and one “dead” dummy — as the training began.
Dr. Jeffrey Lubin, Division Chief for Life Lion, said the training Wednesday was new for the residents.
“Part of their education as residents in emergency medicine is to understand the pre-hospital EMS environment,” Lubin explained. “We’ve been trying to infuse some hands-on realism in our training.”
The training teaches the residents about tactical scenes, terrorist scenes, mass casualty and disaster scenes. The lessons they must learn include organization, safety and medical care in a hostile environments.
“The medicine is different (in these types of scenes),” he said. “The truth is most of them are physicians and will never be on a scene like this. However, they will be receiving patients from a scene like this and providing direction to the EMTs and paramedics who are out there taking care of the patients. They need to understand it, so they know what’s happened before the patient gets to them.”
Lubin said there have been few real incidents in central Pennsylvania in recent years. The most recent mass casualty incident he could recall was the shooting at the West Nickel Mines School, a one-room Amish school in Bart Township, Lancaster County. In October 2006, a gunman shot 10 of the girls in the classroom. Some of the victims were brought to Hershey Medical Center, he said.
The residents went through several training sessions Wednesday, the first without any preparation to determine what they knew. The residents were then debriefed before the second session.
In the second session, some twists were added to the original scenario, including a second gun and a second bomb explosion .
“The goal is for them to get off the scene as quickly as they can safely, taking care of patients, but they’ve got to extract themselves off the dangerous scene and get some place that’s more safe,” said Dr. Kevin King, Program Director for Emergency Medicine Residency. King completed a fellowship at Boston Medical Center and worked at the Boston Marathon several years ago. He was not there during last year’s tragic bombing.
King said the residents had similar training last year, but this year the realism of the incident was increased.
“It’s important to do the suspension of disbelief, because when they forget it’s a simulation, the more they remember and apply in the real-world situation,” King said.
The second time around, Lubin said teachers are looking to see how the residents respond and see how the lessons from the first incident are learned.
The scene included about a dozen “victims,” dressed up by emergency medical technicians. Members of the Dauphin County crisis team also helped with the training.
Following the second simulation, Lubin said the residents showed they had learned from their mistakes in the first one.
“They’ve learned to be more efficient, more effective, to communicate better and to more safely take care of patients on a chaotic scene,” Lubin said.
Dr. Ilana Erlich, a medical resident from Toronto, Canada, said she and her fellow participants were unprepared during the first training simulation.
“We learned the hard way what we need to work on,” she said. The majority of the residents who participated in the sessions have not been trained in emergency medical service, she said. They receive that training in their second year of residency, she added. “I think that we learned a lot from that and we did quite well the second time, just being prepared with our roles and expectations.”
Erlich said it’s important to train with a team.
“You have to train with the team you’re going to be with. Here we’re all working together as residents and we all know each other and now we would have more defined potential,” she said.
Loren Archibeque of Missouri volunteered to be one of the victims in the simulation. She is studying Public Health at the College of Medicine in Hershey.
Archibeque said it was an educational experience.
“In our master of health program, we do learn about public health preparedness, but since we aren’t trained as EMTs, we don’t actually see what’s going on at an event like this,” she said. “I’m a runner and so whenever you are running at Hershey Half Marathon you do wonder are they prepared to handle something like this.”
Archibeque said there were a few flaws in the first simulation, but they corrected them in the second one.
She said it was “very exciting” to be one of the victims. “The first time it seemed a little silly but the second time I wanted to make it harder for them to see if they could really respond,” she added.
She said during the second simulation she placed herself facedown on the floor and acted unresponsive so she couldn’t give them any details of her condition.
The simulation training also will help her in her career, she said.
“As public health professionals, we’re always thinking about how we can be ready for a public health disaster or a natural disaster or an emergency such as the Boston Marathon,” she said.
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