SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – In an upstairs room at her home in New York, while her children and dogs play downstairs, Lt. Col. Sarah Davis, clinical nurse assigned to the 158th Medical Group, Vermont Air National Guard, logs on to her computer for a three-day, virtual trauma nurse training – the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On another continent, time zones away, more than 10 nurses in the North Macedonian Armed Forces were also at home and logging onto their computers Sept. 28. These nurses, much like those in the Vermont National Guard, work in clinical environments and also train for contingency operations, similar to training over a drill weekend.
Also logging in for this exercise was Capt. Michael Kelley, senior nurse for Company C (Med) of the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain), Vermont Army National Guard. Kelley planned the agenda and presented multiple topics over this three-day course.
"I covered an overview of what a trauma system is, how a trauma team is set up and responsibilities of the trauma nurse and team leader," Kelley said. "I also discussed mass casualty (MASCAL) situations, how to set up for MASCAL operations, disaster triage, emergency operations plans and discussed opportunities to improve current plans."
The virtual engagement was initiated through Vermont's State Partnership Program (SPP) with North Macedonia. The SPP links each state's National Guard with the armed forces or equivalent from a foreign partner nation to conduct military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals and build cooperative, mutually beneficial social and economic relationships. The Vermont National Guard has partnered with North Macedonia since 1993 and Senegal since 2008.
Kelley said it would have been helpful to perform simulation scenarios in-person when discussing trauma response and MASCAL operations.
"They wanted mass casualty, but that's very hard to do remotely," said Davis. "Basically, hands-on is much better, because we would kind of throw patients, a lot of them, at them at once and see how they could prioritize treatments. So instead, we did a course with slideshows and just talking. It was interesting."
The different languages and time zones also posed challenges.
"We had to start bright and early, and they were at the end of their day," said Davis.
On the third and final day, guest speakers discussed NATO echelon of care and members of the Vermont Guard talked about the COVID-19 response.
"They wanted to hear about COVID, and how the U.S. responded, so we talked about what we did with the Joint Task Force," said Davis. "Being part of the alternative health care facility was probably the highlight of my career so far because it was doing something that helped the U.S. It was what I was trained to do, and I actually could put it to use, and so I was able to share my experience about what we did."
This trauma care training would have occurred in-person, in North Macedonia or Vermont, but turned virtual because of the pandemic.
Kelley said the Vermont Guard received "great feedback and thanks" for hosting this event.
Once travel restrictions are lifted, next steps will include an in-person training event or joint exercise. Until then, ground military engagements with both state partner countries, North Macedonia and Senegal, are on hold.