Maj. Gen. Philip Volpe, D.O., knows what it’s like to stare into the eyes of a dying patient and perform an impromptu surgery that’s not likely to work.
Volpe, an osteopathic physician, is commanding general of the Army’s Western Regional Medical Command. He was the command surgeon during the infamous Black Hawk Down incident, in which an elite Special Forces group came under siege in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 while trying to bring warlords into custody for international crimes.
He told the incoming students at Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Parker that the patient can sometimes be a friend. Volpe has even made the painful decision of who dies and who lives.
It’s a situation that each student is likely to face sometime in his or her career, and Rocky Vista makes sure its students are fully prepared to save lives. The school’s dean, Bruce Dubin, D.O., says Rocky Vista is the only medical school in the country that utilizes a “sense of hyperrealism” in emergency drills to offer hands-on experience in which no lives are on the line.
During a demonstration July 24 after Volpe’s address to the class of 2016, a team of third-year students acted out a scenario using a “cut suit.” The military trauma team cut into the body suit that contains replicas of human organs; a remote control determines the amount of blood flow. The team communicated effectively, clamping off hemorrhaging and stabilizing the “patient,” an actor who was writhing as if in pain.
“The ability to have thought about it and experienced it ahead of time in simulation has the opportunity to make you a better doctor and provide better care for the patients that we serve,” Dubin said.
On July 21, Rocky Vista staged an Advanced Disaster Life Support training exercise on campus. The in-depth disaster training scenarios are “unfortunately timely, following the tragic shootings that unfolded in Aurora,” the school said in a statement. Rocky Vista originally planned the July 24 scenario with a small explosion and demonstration that would not be announced to the students ahead of time, but changed plans hours before the exercise because of the sensitivity of the public following the movie theater tragedy that took 12 lives and injured 58 people July 20.
Volpe urged the students to consider what they say and how they act with a patient who is severely injured. Working with actors helps mimic the stress involved, he said.
Susan Bauer, 35, an incoming student from Minnesota who sat in the second row for the orientation session, said experience working with mock patients is invaluable. The realistic training is part of what attracted her to the school, which opened north of E-470 on Chambers Road in 2006.
“Maybe it’s not truly real, but it looks real, it smells real, it seems real, and when all of a sudden you have the real situation in front of you, it’s not as bad because you’ve already done it,” she said.
The cut suit, which Bauer called “incredibly innovative,” has her eager to learn more. She says witnessing the scenario made her realize that “we have really cool things that I don’t get to play with yet.”