A day in the life of an army medical officer
Trainee GP Captain Nics Wetherill describes a typical day treating the troops
Captain Nics Wetherill
Role GP trainee and general duties medical officer (GDMO) in the army
Location Army Training Centre (ATC) Pirbright, Surrey
Training Obtained army cadetship in second year of university to combine military service with a medical career. Currently training as a GP
Following breakfast with my fellow officers in the regimental officers’ mess, I leave my army barracks and drive to the medical centre in ATC Pirbright, around six miles away. Sometimes I cycle or run, but as captain of the Nordic ski team I have to be back early today as we are training to win the army divisional championships and represent the army in the national competition.
The medical centre is a large building housing dentists, nurses, physiotherapists and doctors, as well as a small ward for soldiers. There are four military GPs and two GDMOs, of which I am one. There are also three or four civilian doctors and five army medics – soldiers with a year of medical training. We have around 2,600 patients, including a small number of training or permanent staff and their families.
I log on to the computer and start going through the returned blood results. There is a doctors’ meeting to discuss the day’s events, such as the upcoming occupational health meeting with one of the regiment’s chain of command.
At these meetings we discuss any soldier who cannot be deployed at a minute’s notice for medical reasons and discuss how their injury or illness is affecting their work. This can be tricky as patient confidentiality must be maintained, but the chain of command needs to know what they can and can’t do within their role.
The first patient of the day has knee pain. It’s 10 minutes to take a full history and do a basic examination. I make the necessary referral to the physiotherapist.
As I work in an army training centre, most patients I see are within their first 14 weeks of basic training and cannot afford to miss any training time, so when possible they have to be seen within 48 hours by the physiotherapist. This also means that most of the patients I see are new, as there is a new cohort every two weeks.
It’s the dental team’s turn to lay on a medical centre coffee morning, a chance for staff from the dental, physiotherapist, nursing and admin teams to mingle. Every fortnight gets more extravagant as the teams try to outdo each other.
The ninth patient of the day is a recruit with a rash all over his torso mirroring the shape of his lead body armour. I ask a senior doctor with an interest in dermatology for advice. We recommend a cream and arrange to review him in a few days’ time. We never discover what it was, but on review it was peeling with no other symptoms and never returned.
I am now running late, but the tenth patient of the day helps me get back on track. It is another case of knee pain and I am more than familiar with treating this.
It’s the end of morning clinic. I have seen 14 patients this morning including four knee pains, a twisted ankle, two rashes, two oral contraceptive repeat prescriptions, two flu-like symptoms, an ill baby, a recruit feeling low and an infected mosquito bite.
I check my emails. I am currently organising a British Army Women’s expedition in 2017, Ex ICE MAIDEN, aiming to cross Antarctic under our own steam. I am one of the expedition leaders so the applications come to me. There is a constant stream of applicants so it takes a while responding to them all; when the deadline for applications close it will take me and my colleague a long time to choose the fifty we want to take to the selection weekend.
I am teaching army medics this afternoon. We gather in the library, where I try to keep them entertained and enthused about common dermatological conditions they might see. They gasp and giggle when the picture of genital warts is handed round – they are soldiers after all. The medics are regular soldiers who have scored high enough in their joining exam to join the Royal Army Medical Corps and have completed a year-long course in basic medical skills focusing on trauma and some primary care. They then work within deployable regiments and medical centres doing the triage and ‘sick parades’ (the clinics soldiers come to in the mornings if they are unwell).
I rush back to my home barracks and change into my sports kit to meet the rest of the Nordic ski team. It is still early days for most of the team and I teach them the basics of skating with planks of wood on wheels while holding giant ski poles.
I have a quick shower and dress for dinner in ‘jacket and tie female equivalent’. I go for dinner in the officers’ mess, with a sociable coffee afterwards.
I go back to my room, prepare my kit for tomorrow morning’s commanding officers’ physical training and call my boyfriend to tell him about my day.