We should go ahead and make something extraordinarily clear: M.A.S.H. was a great show. Having said that, let’s also make it clear that it was a comedy. Having a cross-dressing soldier hanging around or mixing up cocktails in intravenous drip bags is in no way connected to the reality of being a Military Battlefield Surgeon.
What’s this, you ask? You mean there’s no frivolity in the battlefield ER? Answer: no. Unless you count gallows humor. Being a Military Battlefield Surgeon – also known as a Military Trauma Surgeon – is life-and-death serious. One day, all members of humanity may live in peace with one another, and everyone involved with battlefields can return to their homes to grow orchids or build model ships. For now, we continue to invent new reasons and methods to introduce pieces of metal into each other’s’ bodies, so we need Surgeons to help get them out.
Being a Battle Trauma surgeon is very different from being a surgeon in some metropolitan hospital for a lot of reasons. First of all, you are going to be working on or near a battlefield. That’s battle, as in, people shooting at each other. This means that you are going to be working frantically to save other people’s lives while your own life may be in danger.
Another difference is that the pace of your day (or night) is going to be amped up by a factor of about a million. Your goal every time a patient comes into the aid station or combat support hospital is to assess their injuries and stabilize them as quickly as possible to get them evacuated to a hospital where they can receive long-term care.
As quickly as possible is kind of a key phrase here. Military Surgeons follow the rule of the “golden hour” – the average amount of time you have from the moment an injury occurs until that patient’s body starts to shut down from shock. This means that you are going to have little time to provide usual diagnostic steps or create detailed medical plans. Your job is to react, keep the patient alive, and get him or her somewhere with the specialists and equipment they need to begin recovery.
Are you still reading? Does this sound like your calling? Go back and reread the first part. Still here? Good, just checking to make sure you were serious. Being a Military Trauma Surgeon takes a very special kind of person. So if you think that person might be you, read on. We need people like you.
There are lots and lots of ways to join the military, but to be a Battlefield Surgeon, you are going to need to meet some pretty specific qualifications. You don’t get to just walk into your local Army recruiting office, sign up and check the “Surgeon” box. You are going to need to be a doctor, and one with very broad knowledge of the human body.
To be a Military Trauma Surgeon, you will need to have some awesome skills. Emergency Surgeons need to be able to think very quickly on their feet. You will be in a high-stress situation with a patient who needs you to make a decision about what to do right now. That’s right now, and it means life or death. You don’t get to sleep on these decisions or consult a magic eight ball.
Speaking of making decisions, you are going to need some pretty sharp critical thinking skills. You will need to be able to look at a complex situation and formulate a pretty instantaneous plan. So if you are overwhelmed when there are two good TV shows on at the same time, perhaps the ER is not for you.
You are going to need to be able to prioritize. Think triage – the ability to sort by order of importance. Quick quiz: you have a patient with multiple gunshot wounds to the abdomen and another patient who accidentally ran over his own foot with his Jeep. If you took more than .027 seconds to decide whom to treat first, perhaps a slower paced job might be right for you.
Besides all of these skills, you will need to have an extraordinary ability to work around bodily excretions: blood, urine, barf and poop. They will be present and sometimes flying all over the place, so your iron stomach is going to come in handy.
Still sound like Battlefield Surgeon is for you? Then you’ll want to know how to get there. The path is a ton of school and a lot of practice. If you are in high school, start by taking as many Science classes as you can, especially Biology and Anatomy classes. We know that your Biology teacher’s moustache always has mysterious crumbs in it. But get over it, Biology is important. After that you will most likely major in pre-med in college before going to medical school. Then comes four years of med school, where you will study general surgery, or a specialty like orthopedic (bones) or maxillofacial (face and jaw) surgery. You will then begin your residency where you will be worked mercilessly so that you can hone your skills to perform in the field.