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“Not just blood pressure machines”: Airman prepares young medics for deployment

  • Published
  • By Shireen Bedi
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
Air Force medical technicians are often called upon to stretch their training, skills, and capabilities in support of combat operations. Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Sherrill is no exception.

Sherrill, an Air Force aerospace medical technician now with the 86th Medical Group, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, found her deployment experience gave her a new appreciation of how to care for service members stationed in combat environments, and how her care kept Airmen mission ready.

Now, Sherrill is eager to share the lessons she learned with other medical Airmen.

“As a medic, it is important I take every opportunity to help younger medical Airmen build up their own competencies, be prepared to go downrange, and have the health of several hundred service members rest on their shoulders,” said Sherrill.

Having always wanted to deploy, Sherrill received a call in November 2016 about a unique deployment opportunity for a medical technician. For six months, Sherrill was part of a small medical team providing forward medical support for more than 300 deployed service members.

Even with pre-deployment training, she says some of her most useful preparation came from an unexpected source. Years of experience in the family health clinic readied her to deliver most care in the deployed setting. Many of the cases she treated were acute medical issues like minor injuries, upper respiratory infections, and colds.

“It’s not all trauma and blast injuries,” said Sherrill. “I was surprised when we got out there and realized how familiar I already was with the cases we treated. You are usually trained in mass casualties and major injuries when you deploy. The things I treated every day were many of the same things I saw for nine years in family health.”

Sherrill was equipped with more than just her family health experience. She credits her ability to perform as a medical provider to valuable mentorship from physicians and nurse practitioners at her clinic.

“When I first started as a medic, I just thought I was there to take blood pressures, tell my doctors that their patients were here, and go on about my day,” said Sherrill. “But I was fortunate to work with doctors who knew that if stuff ever hit the fan, I might be in a situation where I’m the only one there to treat patients.”

With that in mind, Sherrill took advantage of opportunities to learn from seasoned Air Force health care providers with many years of service. She asked questions about diagnoses, treatment plans, and what that all meant for the patient. Those same physicians also took the time to quiz her on various scenarios and ask what she would do in those situations.

“They took me under their wing and I felt so confident in my abilities when it came time to deploy,” said Sherrill. “When I would see patients, it felt good to feel competent, know what I was talking about, and speak intelligently on medical conditions.”

That mentorship motivated Sherrill to invest in the younger medics just starting out their career and share her experiences when she deployed. She encouraged them to get in the room with providers and listen to their dialogue with the patient, watch them do the exams, and listen to the plan of care.

“I want those Airmen to be prepared if they ever get deployed and end up in the same situation I did,” said Sherrill. “They would then have a frame of reference and think about what their provider did in a particular situation.”

Sherrill also encourages providers to mentor Airmen just coming in, impart as much knowledge as they can, and share their own experiences.

“I stress the fact that one day a physician may not be there and these young medics need to prepare to provide care in a deployed setting,” said Sherrill. “It is important to give them the information they need to be successful and make sure our brothers and sisters in arms stay healthy during deployment and get home to their families.”

Although this may seem like a lot for a young medic to take on, Sherrill is confident in their abilities to take the initiative to learn more from their providers and deliver effective quality care.

“As a medical technician in the clinic doing the same routine each day, it can be difficult to see where you fit into the bigger picture,” said Sherrill. “Technicians are not just blood pressure taking machines. They serve such a bigger purpose within the Air Force.

“My hope is that young medical Airmen take the approach of shadowing their provider, and find strong mentors who give them a well-rounded medical experience,” said Sherrill. “When the time comes, those skills help you rise to occasion and deliver the best possible care.”