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Face of Defense: Sergeant Diagnoses, Treats Patients

By Air Force Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes
Special to American Forces Press Service

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Aug. 19, 2009 – Military patients are used to having officers or civilians with doctorates of medicine as their primary care providers; however, patients sometimes take a second or third look when they see enlisted airmen performing diagnosis and providing treatment, functions normally performed by doctors.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Julianne Cacal checks a patient's blood pressure July 27, 2009, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Cacal is a 95th Aerospace Medicine Squadron independent duty medical technician who diagnoses and treats servicemembers under the license of a supervising doctor. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Julianne Cacal sometimes gets those looks while performing her job as a 95th Aerospace Medicine Squadron independent duty medical technician, generally known as an "enlisted doctor."

As the only Edwards Air Force Base IDMT, Cacal diagnoses and treats servicemembers all under the license of a supervising doctor.

"Whatever I do, I always have to tell the doctor and make sure my diagnosis and treatment are correct," she said. "I see the patient from start to finish, form a conclusion for diagnosis and treatment, and present it to the doctor. The doctor will either agree with me or make some recommendations."

This is part of the student-teacher relationship between an IDMT and the primary care provider. The doctor trains the IDMT on how to be a "provider."

"Sergeant Cacal has done a great job," said Air Force Capt. (Dr.) Dillard DeHart, a flight surgeon and Cacal's mentor. "She is very enthusiastic about the IDMT program. She handles a lot of the cold- and flu-type illnesses that could occupy most of doctors' time. IDMTs are really very beneficial."

But being an enlisted provider is just one area of IDMT's multifacet of responsibilities. The sergeant also has to perform in other functions, including bioenvironmental, dental, public health, radiology, laboratory and immunizations as well as other medical career fields. With these responsibilities, there is a running joke among medics -- IDMTs are "15 career fields in one."

Cacal’s work here is part of her training in preparation for her future deployment. IDMTs have rigorous annual training requirements to maintain their certification. Aside from performing public health and dental functions, these specialized medical technicians also serve as the health care providers when doctors are not available at deployed or remote locations.

"IDMTs are very important in deployed situations," DeHart said. "Some of the units might not have doctors with them. They just deploy with IDMTs. They handle basic problems you see every day on deployed locations. Sometimes, IDMTs are basically the doctor at the remote site. They handle most of the medical needs for that unit."

Cacal served as a regular medic before a retraining program sent her to Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, for four months of IDMT training.

"I love my job, because I feel special," she said. "It is something I am proud of, because I have made it through the class and now performing my job."

(Air Force Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes serves in the 95th Air Base Wing public affairs office.)

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