Tangiers medical specialist meets the conflict doctors of tomorrow

Tangiers International’s emergency medicine specialist shared his wealth of knowledge with the conflict doctors of tomorrow at a recent London conference.

Dr John Quinn, who heads Tangiers’ site assessment service, spoke to medical students from King’s College London’s Wilderness Medicine Society (WMS) about the challenges and rewards of working in hostile or remote environments.

Wilderness medicine refers to any medical treatment or assessment which is carried out away from traditional healthcare facilities and includes medicine at altitude, during expeditions, in war zones, or in underdeveloped or volatile regions.

The WMS offers training and events to medical students keen on pursuing this career path and invited Dr Quinn to talk about his experience in the field and his advice for students who wanted to follow in his steps.

Dr Quinn said that seeing such an interest in wilderness medicine was “very heartening”.

He explained that a large part of the specialisation was learning how to handle high-stress situations where decisions needed to be made quickly.

He said: “Remote medicine means that you are functioning independently. For a young doctor, that can be extremely challenging and intimidating. They might not be able to handle the inclement weather, or be able to handle getting shot at – but these are skills they can learn.”

Dr Quinn explained that his aim during the talk was to “instil confidence” that wilderness medicine was a feasible and achievable career goal as well as give attendees a “few sign-posts on how they could get started”.

“As a clinician leader, I want to show them this is not impossible. A lot of people want to break into it and a lot of doors can get slammed in your face but you have to keep trying.”

Among the medical students in attendance were many preparing for practical experience in the field – working in underdeveloped regions or about to embark on expeditions where their medical skills would be tested by real-world events.

Dr Quinn spoke about the benefits of taking advanced training courses, such as advanced trauma life support, advanced cardiac life support and tactical combat casualty care.

“Some of these courses are made for doctors, some for nurses and some for administrators,” he explained. “I encourage them to do any of these courses because they instil confidence.”

Dr Quinn has been working with Tangiers for seven years and heads the site assessment service – ensuring companies have the necessary protocols in place to handle medical emergencies in remote or difficult to access locations.

His experiences in the field – both with Tangiers and before – meant he was well placed to advise on some of the challenges these students would face.

These experiences included working as a paramedic in Iraq for several years prior to entering medical school, including during one of the most intense periods of fighting there between 2004-2005.

“I did a whole lot of training with the military and contractors, especially when serving on a weapons of mass collection team in Baghdad and operational medicine with the NATO partners and the US military,” he said. “You really had to be ready for just about anything in wilderness medicine.”