The victims arrived in droves, severely burned, bruised, struck by shrapnel or all of the above. Many suffered smoke inhalation and open fractures. A mass-casualty gas explosion had created a nightmarish scene. DMU osteopathic medical students and clinicians worked valiantly to triage and treat more than 30 traumatized patients.
Fortunately, the March 31 disaster was a mock scenario sponsored by the College of Osteopathic Medicine Student Government Association (SGA), with support from several campus organizations, the Army and the Iowa Department of Public Health. Approximately 30 second-year osteopathic students, under faculty supervision, served as doctors, while 30 first-year students acted as the patients.
“The scenario was designed to help second-year students utilize knowledge from classes over the past two years as well as clinical skills that we aren’t continuously learning,” says Disha Jain, a member of the D.O. Class of 2020 who’s served as her class’s vice president of student organizations on SGA for two years. “We thought this would be a fun way to bring it all together before we go off to our clinical years. And the first-year students got to experience what their next year will look like, while getting to act a little crazy.”
For first-year students like Daniel Masin, a member of the D.O. Class of 2021 and his class’s vice president of student organizations on SGA, the mock disaster allowed participants to apply some of what they learn in class in a real-world environment.
“Being able to make decisions quickly and thoughtfully in a chaotic situation is a lot harder when you’re in the moment with a distressed patient,” he says. “We’re practicing now so if a situation does arise in the future when we’re physicians, we’re better trained.”
The event included a few “trick” cases. Bret Ripley, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, performed as a patient complaining only of minor leg pain, which turned out to be not caused by the explosion but instead a result of deep vein thrombosis secondary to his chronic medical history of atrial fibrillation.
“This condition can lead to a pulmonary embolism, which ultimately ended up killing the patient,” says Daniella Rao, a member of the D.O. Class of 2020, the SGA wellness representative and secretary of the Emergency Medicine Club. “While his student physicians were not able to save him, it was an important reminder that even in disaster scenarios, you have to pay attention to the patient’s entire medical history, or you may miss something.”
In addition to offering students great learning experiences, the event allowed Gavin Gardner, M.Ed., DMU’s simulation director, and his colleagues the chance to use their skills in moulage, the art of applying mock injuries for the purpose of training emergency response teams and other medical and military personnel. Their tools included theater-grade makeup to simulate bruises and other injuries, silicone and clay for lacerations, glycerin to make victims “sweaty” and broken glass made of soft plastic.
“The fun part is the creativity,” Gardner says. “Also, the first-year students got to cut loose as the patients, be part of something cool and see how the second-year students were able to perform. That’s motivational.”
While the mock disaster was the largest done at DMU, the student organizers are optimistic it will become an annual event that will only grow.
“For me, the biggest takeaway was that you can never truly be prepared for a situation like this,” Rao says. “You can never predict the stress or chaos that will come with a mass casualty event, which is why these drills are important.”