Contributed by Erica Bleakley, Carla Yeung
In a significant step towards international collaboration and disaster readiness, the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC) recently held the inaugural AUSMAT Rehabilitation Team Member Course. This three-and-a-half-day intensive course brought together AUSMAT rehabilitation professionals from all over Australia who were joined by counterparts from Samoa, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands.
The participants were a diverse group, embodying a spectrum of healthcare expertise, including occupational therapists, physiotherapists, nurses, and a doctor. Their mission - to prepare for the vital role of being a rehabilitation professional during international health emergencies. The course was meticulously designed around three pivotal themes:
- Rehabilitation’s role in emergencies and AUSMAT’s position: Placing AUSMAT rehabilitation within the broader context of health emergency responses.
- Assessment of needs and prioritising rehabilitation responses: Understanding how to assess needs and identify priorities for effective rehabilitation.
- Clinical proficiency and capacity building: Enhancing clinical skills and understanding the importance of capacity building.
The course faculty comprised of NCCTRC staff and two rehabilitation in emergency specialists, drawing from diverse global experiences in places like Samoa, Gaza, Ukraine, Bangladesh, Ghana, and the UK. The course was a blend of interactive lectures, engaging small-group activities, and simulation exercises. Each activity was designed to highlight aspects of rehabilitation care in crisis-affected and resource-scarce environments, shedding light on patient prioritisation and treatment, available surgical and medical care, availability of consumables and assistive products, and opportunity for long-term patient follow up.
Additionally, the course provided opportunities for participants to understand and practice the leadership and advocacy roles that are often required of rehabilitation professionals in emergency medical teams. It sparked conversations about inclusivity, urging considerations for vulnerable populations—people with disabilities, women, children, and minority groups—who are disproportionately affected by health emergencies.
Beyond the classroom, the course served as a conduit for knowledge exchange and experience sharing among Australian and Pacific colleagues. Each country group presented about their country’s health and rehabilitation systems and their involvement in emergency preparedness and response. These presentations provided rich insights into the strengths and challenges of delivering rehabilitation in these Pacific countries.
Given the Pacific is AUSMAT’s most common region of deployment, developing networks with rehabilitation professionals in these areas is of significant importance and supports the NCCTRC’s work in the Pacific. If AUSMAT is ever requested to support these countries in the unfortunate event of a health emergency, we now have a shared understanding of how we can work together with our Pacific colleagues to deliver rehabilitation interventions and improve patient outcomes.
Participant feedback painted an overwhelmingly positive picture, affirming the course’s effectiveness in meeting its objectives. One participant commented on their three key takeaway points: "considering the broader health picture and how I fit into it whenever attempting to make change; trusting my decision making skills and being confident in those decisions when under the pump; and considering the vulnerable populations that aren't always as visible in an emergency but also in regular life". Their comment reflects the carry-over between AUSMAT training and participants’ usual work settings; just as participants bring their own skills and experiences to AUSMAT, so too they take their new skills in health emergency response back to their usual workplaces.
Other feedback emphasised the productive collaboration and relationship building that occurred both between AUSMAT members and Pacific participants, and an increased understanding of the role of rehabilitation within AUSMAT and emergencies more broadly.
“The course has increased confidence in my vision of allied health's role on deployment. For I think I can see us being utilised well in ED, the inpatient/outpatient setting at the field hospital and the community/embedded role… The importance of the embedded role and building capacity in local communities. Basic things like leading with open questions and asking what the local service thinks they need or are having difficulty with’. Another participant said.
The delivery of the inaugural AUSMAT Rehabilitation Team Member course was the culmination of several years of intensive growth for AUSMAT’s Rehabilitation Team. These healthcare professionals represent almost all jurisdictions across Australia and are ready for deployment alongside their AUSMAT teammates. As one participant aptly put it, “I am really excited and humbled to be an AUSMAT Rehabilitation Professional”, a sentiment echoed by all participants, and makes the hard work that goes into developing and delivering the course feel worthwhile.