Baltimore C-STARS partnership prepares Airmen for battlefield medicine

  • Published
  • By Shireen Bedi
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
This is the second part of a two-part series on medics embedded in the Baltimore Center for the Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills program.

Civilian partnerships are a vital readiness resource for the Air Force Medical Service, refreshing medics on trauma skills and taking lessons learned to deliver life-saving trauma care downrange.

The Center for the Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills program in Baltimore, Maryland, prepares medical Airmen for deployment through immersive training at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. There, Airmen build their skills, remain clinically current, and practice trauma and casualty care.

Part of what makes the AFMS partnership with the Baltimore STC so effective are the seasoned C-STARS instructors who bring their deployed experiences to the program, giving Airmen a better idea of what to expect when delivering trauma care in a combat environment.

Medical Airman brings deployed experience to the classroom

Having deployed since 2008, when Air Force Medicine was treating and transporting a high volume of trauma patients, Master Sgt. Sean Patterson, a respiratory therapist and superintendent of C-STARS Baltimore, gained valuable experience early in his career.

Patterson served on an Air Force Special Operations Command special operational surgical team where he deployed to support several combatant commands. His experience in austere environments expanded his medical knowledge and capabilities, making him a valuable resource for C-STARS trainees.

“We tailor our program to capitalize on lessons learned from the battlefield,” said Patterson. “Through simulations and lectures, we try to expose students to trauma injuries that mimic the injury patterns they will see downrange.”

For example, trainees learn how to use a device called the resuscitative endovascular balloon occlusion of the aorta, or REBOA. A relatively established technology, the Air Force uses REBOA as a vital tool downrange, especially with SOSTs and other forward deployed surgical teams.

“REBOA acts as an internal tourniquet that cuts off blood flow to the lower half of a patient’s body,” said Patterson. “This allows the internal organs to sustain blood flow and allows surgeons to go in and fix the underlying issue.”

C-STARS Baltimore trainees have the opportunity to become familiar with REBOA.

“I came from AFSOC prior to becoming a C-STARS instructor,” said Patterson. “We utilized REBOA downrange. The C-STARS Baltimore’s partnership lets our medics use REBOA on real patients here, so they are prepared to save lives downrange.”

Knowing that many medical Airmen rely on programs like C-STARS to maintain readiness, Patterson takes the mission of training for combat care seriously and values the program’s partnership with Baltimore’s STC.

“A high volume of trauma patients come through here every day,” said Patterson. “This exposes our medics to the best possible patient population.”

Seasoned nurse learns new skills

For Maj. Shane Runyon, C-STARS deputy director, one of the greatest aspects of the program is how it prepares Airmen for deployment. Being located in a trauma-only hospital that services the entire state of Maryland, Runyon says there are many ways the patients and cases at the STC mirror what trainees will see downrange.

“We see a continuous flow of trauma in the shock trauma center,” said Runyon. “It simulates the mass casualty situations we need to prepare for in deployments.”

C-STARS trainees also have the opportunity to learn from civilian physicians, nurses, and medics, some who have worked in trauma care for more than 40 years.

“Our civilian counterparts have a wealth of experience that we have been able to tap into and learn from,” said Runyon. “I am always learning from the civilian health practitioners, and I am able to pass on what I learn to the trainees.”

Even with multiple deployments as a Critical Care Air Transport Team nurse, Patterson still finds ways to sharpen his trauma care skills.

“When I first came to shock trauma, I was very confident in my nursing skills,” said Runyon. “Working in shock trauma makes you realize that there is always something new to learn. As instructors, we bring civilian trauma experience along with our deployment experience together to teach our medical Airmen.”

Runyon saw the value of C-STARS training during a recently deployment.

“When I deployed with a ground surgical team, we continued to keep our skills fresh during our daily meetings,” said Runyon. “During long periods where we had downtime, our team spent a couple of hours every day building from our training. We would talk about patients we could receive and then simulate that patient encounter, walking through what we would do.”

For Runyon, this practice came in handy when faced with a real mass casualty situation. His team was able to stabilize all patients and transport them to a local hospital. He attributes his team’s capabilities to the quality training received at C-STARS Baltimore.

“We have a strong knowledge base coming out of training,” said Runyon. “Whether in the clinic or on the battlefield, the goals are always the same. We want to stabilize patients while meeting all of the same levels of care all while working in an environment with limited resources.”

Like all C-STARS instructors, Runyon knows how important his role is for medical Airmen.

“It’s rewarding to take all the lessons learned from deployment and help shape medics who are the future of Air Force Medicine,” said Runyon.