An Orthopaedic Surgeon’s Sabbatical with a Difference!
What did I do on my orthopaedic surgeon sabbatical?
I’ve been a consultant orthopaedic surgeon in Doncaster since 2006; I’ve however been an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) reserves since 1992. I’ve managed to balance work, home and military commitment fairly successfully throughout training and consultant practice. I’ve deployed on operations to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan in 2007 and 2012 and again this year as part of a small surgical team in support of operations in the wider middle east.
The deployment process
These deployments don’t happen overnight, there’s a fairly lengthy process – from nomination to confirmation to preparation to mobilisation to deployment and finally demobilisation.
This involves discussion with employers to get their support for you to be away from work for 6 months or more, to support time for training, and more importantly for discussion with family to get their support, as it would be impossible to deploy without family support.
Once nominated (up to a year in advance) and confirmed, the first job is to meet the team you are part of, in my case one of 4 individuals to join a team from a formed unit. Work-up training then took place over 7 months prior to mobilisation in January 2022. This consisted of a number of weekends at various military areas honing military skills (Weapons Handling and Marksmanship, first aid, fitness, CBRN etc) to the required standard, as well as working together as a small medical team and honing required skills to cover all eventualities whilst deployed, including specialist courses required for deployment to an austere environment. The inevitable plethora of vaccinations required occurred: covid, flu, hep B, and anthrax to name a few.
Time for deployment
Mobilisation occurred in early January 2022; there followed 2 ½ months of pre-Deployment training to tick all the boxes. Paperwork was collated for each member of the team to confirm registration, health status, dental fitness and readiness. This culminates with 2 medical training exercises, each of 2-3 days, where the medical and team working capabilities are tested using simulated casualties that may be expected on operational deployments.
Finally, the day for deployment arrives and the team meet at RAF Brize Norton for check-in for the flight to Cyprus, and then onward transfer to the operational theatre.
During the tour, which unfortunately remains confidential and non-discussable, I had to return home on compassionate grounds as unfortunately my mother died whilst I was deployed. I returned to theatre after a week to complete my duties.
The end of my orthopaedic surgeon sabbatical
After 3 months deployed (including the platinum jubilee) and handing over to our replacement team, the return from operations occurs once again through Cyprus and Brize Norton. A brief welcome home and demobilisation, after which all leave accrued during mobilisation must be taken before return to normal work in the NHS.
After nearly 2 months leave spent with the family the day arrives when the real world crashes in and “Normal Life” resumes at work with the inevitable questions, most of which have to remain unanswered for security reasons. A somewhat difficult transformation from Military to Civilian life with a formal return to practice programme to mitigate any skill fade whilst deployed.
Once again I am grateful for the support received from my employer and colleagues to allow my deployment to have occurred. More importantly, I am eternally grateful to my wonderful wife, Pamela, and my children, Charlotte, Ollie, Eddie and Henry – without whose support and love my military activities would not have been possible.