Face of Defense: Medical Tech Puts Skills to Work
By Air Force Capt. Joe Campbell
386th Air Expeditionary Wing
SOUTHWEST ASIA, May 6, 2010 There aren't enough physicians in the Air Force to be placed everywhere they may be needed. However, airmen in certain career fields can perform limited medical treatment in their stead.
Air Force Master Sgt. Roberto Gutierrez listens to a patient's lungs May 1, 2010, at an air base in Southwest Asia. Gutierrez is an independent duty medical technician with the 386th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron. U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Joe Campbell
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Independent duty medical technicians like Air Force Master Sgt. Roberto Gutierrez from the 386th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron here often are attached to units in isolated locations to tend to the units' medical needs.
"Since there are fewer than 500 of us in the Air Force, most folks have not even heard of us," Gutierrez said. "We are usually attached to flying units or other units that deploy in remote and austere locations."
As a member of a small-in-numbers career field, Gutierrez provides a variety of critical services to his unit, performing numerous jobs to support the mission.
"We are physician extenders and force multipliers capable of providing different aspects of medicine with a small footprint," he said. "I have multiple jobs here; IDMTs are like a hospital in a package. I treat patients, do sick call, immunizations, dental [and] bioenvironmental duties, such as checking water quality, public health inspections of eateries and the dining hall."
Deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan, the Manila, Philippines, native said there are some aspects of being an independent duty medical technician at a deployed location that differ from his job in garrison. There, he does a lot of training; here, he puts those skills to work.
"Being a part of a squadron medical element at home station, we train constantly under the supervision of our medical preceptor,” he said. “We have functional area trainers who ensure we are on top of our game, so that we are proficient in all aspects of the job when it comes to medicine and environmental sanitation."
A typical day in the U.S. Air Forces Central area of responsibility for Gutierrez includes following up on patients at the expeditionary medical support unit and gathering supplies.
"My day starts out by visiting [expeditionary medical support] to check for any patients seen after hours, and also to pick up needed supplies," the 22-year Air Force veteran said. "We keep close tabs on our patients, especially the aircrew, to ensure they are fit-to-fly to accomplish the mission. We see a variety of medical conditions just like in EMEDs, but with the convenience [for patients] of being close to the flightline."
Gutierrez said that in order to be successful, IDMTs cannot be shy or afraid to tackle differing aspects of the health care profession. Additionally, an IDMT must be able to work independently.
"Most essential to successful mission accomplishment here is ensuring personnel are in the best health and condition possible," he said. "I enjoy interacting with people and being involved in their medical care. It is challenging to learn different aspects of the operations world, but I have to be in touch with patients and familiar with their jobs and duties so I may better care for them."
Gutierrez said his current deployment is his best, in part, because of the quality-of-life initiatives.
"I love deployments, and each one is unique,” he said. “I love the fact that I bring my specialty to the fight. This deployment surely has been my best, so far.
“The quality of life here is outstanding,” Gutierrez continued. He and his fellow servicemembers, he said, enjoy “a great dining hall,” and around-the-clock Internet access.