05 May 2022

First of all- it's teamwork. Interview with Renata Popik, medical coordinator of PMM VASCO Emergency Team.

New volunteers of the Polish Medical Mission will soon start training for the PMM VASCO Emergency Team. Renata Popik, a specialist in general surgery and medical coordinator of the emergency team of the Polish Medical Mission, participant of medical missions, e.g. in Uganda and Myanmar.
  • What will the first stages of creating the PMM VASCO Emergency Team look like and who has the chance to join it?

Renata Popik: We will build the team after evaluating the applications we have collected over the last two months. Their profile is very different, medical rescuers or mine rescuers, doctors of various specializations, midwives, and nurses came forward - there is someone to choose from. The WHO guidelines clearly state how many specialists should be included in the team and what specializations, how many people will work in one shift, and in what relation to each other. Because it would be difficult to replace a nurse with a pharmacist or to send 20 nurses and no doctor.
  • How will all these people be trained, taking into account their different work experiences and specializations?

Remember that we will not only save people after avalanches or tsunamis. It is primarily a team of medics who will help the patients who come to them. The whole team will not be walking in dangerous areas, because there are completely different services for that, such training can, of course, be useful, but it is not an absolute requirement. Instead, we will combine the functions of an ambulance, emergency room, emergency room, health care, and maybe even a hospital. Of course, it may happen that the team will end up in a dangerous place, but it will definitely not go underground to pull out the trapped people. However, when they are taken out, they will provide medical help. The task of the team will not only be to react in the event of spectacular disasters and armed conflicts but, for example, to engage in the event of an epidemic. We all know it from experience - in one place it is milder, and in another additional medical workers are needed, who will appear specifically for this purpose.
Our team will not only be support in emergency situations requiring a quick departure from the country, but also part of the projects of the Polish Medical Mission that are ongoing and planned in advance. For example, in the indicated place, it will look at the conditions for the functioning of health care, conduct the necessary training, improve the quality of medical assistance, using the possibilities and potential available on the spot, or even create a so far non-existent medical assistance point, even the most basic one.
  • What, then, will the preparation of candidates who have advanced to the next stage and become team members begin with?

The first step is to build a team, check the dynamics of mutual relations of people who joined it, and how they get along with each other. Medicine is a lot of teamwork, especially in the field, so all members have to trust each other, rely on each other and learn more or less about their skills. During the recruitment process, we will conduct field training, in various conditions, and see how they achieve teamwork and how they find themselves in conditions other than a hospital ward. And later, when the team members get to know each other and have their first experience of cooperation behind them, it will be time for training with, among others, safety procedures, and infectious and tropical diseases. You will have to tame them with the thought that they will go to places that are culturally, geographically, and historically alien, where they may encounter various situations. The experience of PMM medics who have already participated in missions will certainly help us here. But we will not only engage in work in distant countries because if in Poland there is a need to support, for example, humanitarian actions or conduct training, our team will also be able to help.
Will the team is involved in helping Ukraine, for example, support the staff of the field hospital in Mykolaiv?
If there is a need and if the security situation allows it, but we cannot risk the life and health of employees. Perhaps the situation will change so much that we will help on the Polish side of the border because the presence in Ukraine will be impossible. Just as we help Syrians on the Turkish side, we are present in refugee camps, we do not leave them unattended. We must strike a balance between helping those in need and the safety of staff.
  • Under what circumstances is the decision made to prepare the team for the trip and to engage in assistance in emergencies?

Most often, it is the country affected by a natural disaster or in need of additional medics that announces the need for specific support, specifying for how long and to what extent they expect support. Sometimes it is about handing over some equipment, setting up a field hospital or organizing an admission point, and training the staff. In emergency situations, these 48 hours to reach the place should be binding, although due to the distance, sometimes reaching the destination in such a short time may be unrealistic. It might not seem like 48 hours, especially as the path between receiving a distress call and assembling your team and getting all the equipment to the scene is quite a long one. This is helped by the development of very strictly defined procedures in the event of various events. The WHO also imposes such an obligation, so we use their knowledge and experience. On this basis, it is easier to react quickly. And as the team grows advanced and develops, for example in terms of the equipment used, further procedures will also be introduced on a regular basis.
  • How will the cooperation with local health systems work - are we talking about replacing it or rather complementing each other?

It depends on what's in place and how it works. We can help by training local staff, so we will fulfill an educational function and the acquired skills will be used by local staff. But if we do not find any functioning facility or employees on the spot, then we become one hospital - for a selected period of time, we are fully responsible for helping those in need. And this is how we prepare for the trip - if we know that we will have a housing base with running water at our disposal, there is no need to take tents with us. We can certainly count on showing us the expectations related to our arrival by local doctors, and on this basis, it will be easier for us to determine what team and what equipment will be necessary to provide help as effectively as possible.


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