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'There was no sense of panic, just drilled preparation': Nursing at the frontline of the RAF

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“I was on duty the night the camp was invaded. We had two duties to perform - prepare for a mass casualty and be mindful of security and defense of the hospital.


“We prepared by ensuring all bed spaces were fully equipped and the drug cupboard fully stocked. 

“We then prepared ourselves by having a cup of tea…because we didn’t know when we’d next get a chance to do so!

“We were aware that there was something pretty serious occurring but were unaware of the scale. There was no sense of panic, just drilled preparation.

“The calm before the storm effect crept in but we knew that we were ready and, although we didn’t know what was about to happen, we did know we had a job to do and that the troops were relying on us to be there for them.

“And that’s exactly what we did.”

This is just one example of RAF reserves nurse Gemma Whitfield’s experiences in Afghanistan. The Oxford Brookes University graduate joined the Royal Air Force Reserves in 2010 before deploying to Afghanistan in 2012 for nearly four months.

“The calm before the storm effect crept in but we knew that we were ready”

She holds her current position as a junior sister on ITU at the Royal United Hospital Foundation Trust, Bath.

This combination of RAF reserves and nursing training came together and has led Ms Whitfield to perform what she calls one of the most amazing jobs of her lifetime.

During her time in practice with burn, trauma, and head injury patients and training at university, Ms Whitfield realised she was searching to gain two things from her practice: putting the skills she had learned in nursing to use in a challenging environment and giving something worthwhile back to a community.

In 2010, she was successfully attested into 4626 Aeromed Evacuation Squadron in the Royal Air Force Reserves and took the first steps to making these two goals a reality.

“Although I was trained in the role as a flight nurse for repatriation duties it was identified that I was also ITU experienced and qualified from Oxford Brookes University, so in 2012 I deployed into the ITU in the Role 3 in Camp Bastion to serve in Afghanistan.

“The tour lasted 3 ½ months from July to October. I have now served for four years 10 months and have been successful at selection to go for commission at RAF College Cranwell,” Ms Whitfield said.

Prior to deploying, Ms Whitfield considered herself an enthusiastic and positive nurse. These attributes contributed to her decision to deploy, however they are ones that have combined with her experiences in Afghanistan and helped shape her practice for the future.

“I have become a more focused practitioner”

“I have become a more focused practitioner, more supportive to my colleagues, and more capable of adapting to any situation calmly. I think these qualities subsequently influence the work I do during my shifts, and I feel that the experience with trauma nursing helped me to gain them,” Ms Whitfield said.

Another component of Ms Whitfield’s RAF training was her time spent in Cyprus for two weeks in June 2014.

Emma Bleznak

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