In a bid to strengthen surgical capabilities and emergency medical response across the Asia-Pacific region, the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC) recently hosted the biennial AUSMAT Surgical Team Course.
The course brought together a cohort of 33 nurses, surgeons and anaesthetists from diverse corners of the Asia-Pacific region, including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu, New Zealand and most jurisdictions across Australia.
Providing a platform for collaboration and learning, the course centred on capacity building in healthcare systems, exposing participants to a range of essential surgical and peri-operative techniques to further prepare them for deployment in an austere environment.
The course featured a distinguished faculty, bringing together experts from across Australia, New Zealand and Samoa. Together, they shared a wealth of expertise gained through military service, disaster response and public health deployments on a global scale.
The NCCTRC caught up with some of the participants from the Asia-Pacific to chat about their experiences on the completing the course.
For Jenny Jimmy, a Perioperative Nurse from Vanuatu, the course highlighted the importance of being agile in disaster emergencies and how creativity and innovation is required when resources are limited.
“The simulation element of the course was stressful, but in a good way. It gave me an idea of what a deployment could be like. You could be in a totally new environment. You have to improvise.
“Back home, I know the operating theatre rooms like the back of my hand. But living in a place where natural disasters like floods or earthquakes happen, we need to be prepared and ready to adapt.”
Jenny, like many of her colleagues, gained her skills through experience on the job and through learning from senior staff members. “I trained as a Registered Nurse 12 years ago and haven’t had formal training like this so this has been an enlightening experience.”
The course expanded Jenny’s skills beyond the familiar walls of the operating theatres back home and while the contrast was a shock initially, she’s excited to return home, share her newfound knowledge and further enhance the capabilities of her colleagues.
“Like the senior nurses before me, I hope to pass on my knowledge”
Dr Saveneca Rusaqoli, a Fijian Paediatric Surgeon and a member of the Fijian Emergency Medical Assistance Team (FEMAT), sees education and training as pivotal in elevating his capacity to support both his team and the communities they serve.
From gaining insights into sterilisation procedures to understanding logistics, Dr Rusaqoli found the knowledge he gained about the behind the scenes work of AUSMAT team members to be invaluable. He appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the functions of different emergency medical team (EMT) members and emphasised the importance of adaptability and cross-functional understanding within the teams.
“During the course, we’ve had to the opportunity to learn a bit about everything. Something as seemingly simple like the sterilisation of equipment, I had taken for granted because it’s often considered a nurse’s role. I was previously unaware of the processes involved. As surgeons, we often expect everything ready and prepped for the next case, which can be tiring for the nurses.”
Dr Rusaqoli found the insights into the work delivered by other team members have been invaluable for collaborative capacity building during the course.
"It’s been great to understand the roles and perspectives of other team members. Throughout my training, I’ve been taught to be flexible and agile during deployment, but I often focus on my role as a surgeon. In the future, I hope to be more involved and assist the logisticians more. While we already contribute by setting up the tent, I’d also like to be involved in the grittier details, such as water sterilisation."
Teodoro Ernesto, a nurse from Timor-Leste, described the course as transformative. He stressed the value of upskilling, to discover new techniques in performing procedures and training to continually improve.
"This course has been a game-changer for me. I’ve worked with AUSMAT teams in the hospital before, but this was my first time on an AUSMAT training course. I’ve had a great time learning from the faculty, not only to improve my nursing skills but also to gain a better understanding of emergency preparedness.
Teodoro's testimony reflects how the training equips clinicians with vital skills, ultimately promoting collaboration and capacity building within their home healthcare systems.
Dr Jack Puti, an anaesthetist from the Solomon Islands and participant said the course instilled crucial skills and fostered a teamwork-oriented mindset, applicable to both routine healthcare and effective disaster responses.
"I firmly believe in teamwork and collaboration, where every healthcare professional and department are significant, not just hospitals.
We need to unite all stakeholders into a cohesive team, ensuring continuity and a shared understanding for a more effective healthcare system.
My goal is to advocate for this holistic approach, integrating efforts, knowledge, and resources from various sectors to address both immediate healthcare needs and the overall well-being of the affected population."
With such a diverse group of healthcare professionals in this year’s cohort, the AUSMAT Surgical Team Course stands as a prime example of international collaboration and knowledge sharing. It showcases the collective dedication to strengthening surgical capabilities and emergency medical responses across the Asia-Pacific, leaving a lasting, positive imprint on the region's healthcare landscape.