I was recently invited to sit in on a meeting to discuss proposed protocols and scope of practice for Tactical Medics in my state. At one point during the discussion of what sick call medications should be on our approved list, one of the participants made the comment “What medic is going to tell a SWAT cop he’s gotta sit out because he took ‘X’ medicine?”
-I have. Multiple times. That’s our job.
And that one question highlights the difference between being a medic on a team and being the team’s “Doc.” It doesn’t happen overnight, nor should it. Becoming “Doc” is a badge of honor, a title that proves you have earned your guys’ trust and respect. It’s an acceptance into a clan that you were once an outsider. When I was first selected for my team, I was “the new medic” or just “the medic” for a while. Eventually, I was called by my name. Even after returning from CONTOMS for my basic EMT-T training, I was still an outsider. But, gradually, as I participated in every training, made every call-out, learned everything I could about their job, and taught them what I could about mine, my credibility grew. My acceptance grew. Then, one day it happened. As we were getting team assignments for a training exercise, the Team Leader looked to me and said “…and Doc, you’ll be with me.” This was no small thing. The TL was a former infantry Marine, like me. I knew it meant I was now one of them. Not the same as them, but one of them. To get here, we need to do more than just show up. Assessment and Selection is just the beginning. That just shows we are good enough to get the try-out. We need to be experts in our field as well as strive for excellence in theirs. We need to prove that their wellbeing comes before all else in our eyes. Teach them medical skills. Ask them how they are feeling. Make sure they have “water and clean socks.” We’re not shooters, but we need to know their movements, weapons, and skills. Even if you aren’t permitted to carry a sidearm, shoot with them, and shoot well. Make yourself an asset, not a liability. None of them want to “babysit the medic” but if we train “in the stack” and learn, understand, and master the movements and tactics, even if you’re ultimately “dropped at the door” or left at the last point of cover, they will know you understand the job and respect you for putting in the work. Every time they come back out ask each one “Are you okay? Are you injured?” Eventually they will come to you, first with questions, then with their aches, pains, and ailments. There can be apprehension on the part of the operators about telling anyone they are sick or injured. These are the guys that worked just as hard as you did to get selected. They don’t want to be sidelined. They will try to come out sick or injured and hope nobody notices. But once you gain their trust, they’ll come to you. They know you won’t pull your punches; if you can keep them operational you will, and if you tell them to sit it out, they’ll trust that you have their, and the team’s best interests in mind. The medic that will tell a SWAT cop he has to sit out is a TEMS medic. He is “Doc”