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Dome - Burn center ‘stars’ train military

April 2011

Burn center ‘stars’ train military

Date: April 6, 2011

Training a different kind of student.

Reginald Gilchrist watches as nurse Sarah Schmerler shows him how to prepare the Burn Center tub room for patient care.
Reginald Gilchrist watches as nurse Sarah Schmerler shows him how to prepare the Burn Center tub room for patient care.

Wearing a surgical mask and hat, Reginald Gilchrist observes closely as nurse Sarah Schmerler dresses the burns on the patient’s abdomen. She does this slowly so that new skin grafts are not disturbed, in a room as hot as a Baltimore August to maintain burn patients’ body temperatures. Between each dressing, she changes gloves to keep the wounds free from bacteria. Schmerler shows Gilchrist how to carefully wrap the wounds with gauze and ointment, a technique she has shown many students before.

But Gilchrist isn’t a typical student. He’s an Air Force critical care tech who’s receiving burn care training at the Johns Hopkins Burn Center through a novel program called the Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills, also known as C-STARS.

“We see a lot of burns from IEDs, or roadside bombs, when we’re downrange, so we need to be on our A-game,” says Gilchrist. In fact, burns amount to about 80 percent of the cases requiring medical treatment in Afghanistan and Iraq.

C-STARS helps prepare Air Force health care providers including physicians, nurses, and critical care and medical techs for their deployment overseas. The three-week trauma and critical care training program, based at the University of Maryland R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, includes a rotation to the Johns Hopkins Burn Center, where students learn how to care for burns and stabilize patients within the first 24 hours of their injuries, a crucial skill in the field.

About 30 Air Force active duty medical personnel rotate through the center each month. Although students can choose from three C-STARS training sites—Cincinnati, St. Louis and Baltimore—Baltimore has become popular, specifically because it offers a burn and wound component, according to Carrie Cox, the center’s community outreach and education coordinator who organizes the program.

C-STARS was created after realignment caused many U.S. military bases and their medical facilities to downsize or close. Military medical personnel then began sharpening their critical care skills at civilian trauma centers.

After an initial lecture about managing burn and smoke inhalation injuries, students get to dive in and care for patients alongside the center’s faculty and staff.

“We’re preparing our troops for deployment, teaching them how to care for burn patients,” says nurse Schmerler. “And it gives me a good feeling to know that ultimately, we are helping our soldiers overseas.”

—Katie Kuehn