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Meet some of the people who are part of the Army’s ‘life support machine'

A former dancer, postman, and student are just some of the people who work in Army Medical Services - the Army’s ‘life support machine’.

All decided a career in medicine was for them and their Army and medical training has given them the confidence and knowledge to meet any challenge thrown at them in a range of environments under all manner of conditions. 

The trio are part of a 500-strong tri-service medical team currently working with the NHS staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) Birmingham.

The QEH is home to the Royal College of Defence Medicine (RCDM) which provides medical support to military operational deployments and is a dedicated training centre for defence personnel. It also has a focus on medical research. 

Read below to find out more about some of the faces behind the uniform or click here to watch our YouTube videos and find out more about the working relationship between our military personnel and QEH. 

Healthcare Assistant

Private Shannon Tams who danced at the London Palladium and Sadler’s Wells is now a Health Care Assistant in the Queen Alexandra’s Nursing Corps.

"It was time for a career change, and I’d always thought about going into healthcare." Pte Shannon Tams

It was when Covid hit that Shannon decided it was time for a career change.

She said: “After Covid it was hard to find employment in the dance sector. I’d been dancing since I was four. It was time for a career change, and I’d always thought about going into healthcare.

Shannon decided the best route for her was to gain experience as a Healthcare Assistant before applying for nurse training to fulfil her ultimate goal. 

“For me the healthcare assistant role is a steppingstone and lets me learn on the job,” she said. “I’m doing an access course now to enable me to train as a nurse. My aim is to qualify as an accident and emergency specialist nurse.”

The role of a healthcare assistant is to make sure the patient experience is as comfortable and stress-free as possible. Personnel must complete their basic military training before starting their healthcare assistant training at the Defence Medical Services, Whittington in Lichfield. The 18-month training is a mix of practical and theoretical training that leads to a Level 3 Diploma in Clinical Healthcare Support.

Biomedical Scientist

Corporal Matthew Maguire’s role as a biomedical scientist sees him conduct laboratory and scientific tests to provide results that are critical to patient care.

“I don’t think many people know about the diversity of jobs the Army offers. Being in the Army has offered me variety and enabled me to train as a multi-disciplined biomedical scientist working in microbiology, biochemistry, haematology, and transfusion.” Cpl Matthew Maguire

A typical day includes analysing culture plates with the help of simple biochemical tests, microscopes, and automated specimen analysers to identify infectious organisms.

Corporal Maguire, who joined the Army in 2020, said: “Going through school and 6th form I always really enjoyed being in the laboratories. I did A-levels in maths, biology, chemistry, and physics. I very much enjoyed the science and the analytical process. I wanted to know where it started, why it happened and the result.”

“I don’t think many people know about the diversity of jobs the Army offers. Being in the Army has offered me variety and enabled me to train as a multi-disciplined biomedical scientist working in microbiology, biochemistry, haematology, and transfusion.”

All Army biomedical scientists start their career with basic training before they go onto their  specialist training. Those who don’t already have a degree will study for a BSC(Hons) in Biomedical Science at Aston University, Birmingham. 

The first three years of a bio-medical scientist’s career is based at the Royal College of Defence Medicine in Birmingham to allow them to complete their training. After that they will spend two years in a unit or at a medical centre on a base, followed by a return to a joint hospital group for two years. The rotations will continue throughout their military careers.

A&E Nurse

Sergeant George Cross is a former postman. He  joined the Army in 2014 and is now an Accident and Emergency nurse at QEH.

“You must be resilient because you could be working in austere environments, and you have to have assertiveness." Sgt George Cross

“It was a massive career change for me. I think people are surprised that I am a nurse in the Army. They assume all soldiers are kicking down doors and living out in the field. 

“I joined the Army because I wanted to get paid whilst training, which was a massive benefit that attracted me. I received a living wage whilst studying and the Army has also paid for me to do further courses since I qualified.”

University student nurses are paid up to £21,409. Once qualified pay will rise to £32,076. All student nurses complete a three-year nursing degree. Paid for by the Army, it will give them a professional registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, and, on completion of the degree, the students will be employed as a registered nurse before going on to specialise if they wish. Sergeant Cross chose to specialise as an accident and emergency nurse.

His job is to provide medical care to A&E patients suffering from acute illness and injuries. His duties include taking patients’ vital signs and observing their physical condition, administering medication, and performing some medical procedures including applying sutures and starting intravenous lines.

George said: “I normally work Monday to Friday in the A&E department. I must maintain my physical fitness and complete military duties in between my shifts. For example, I have to pass my combat marksmanship test annually.”

“I am ready to deploy at any moment. I went to Canada a few weeks ago for a military competition and expect to deploy later this year.

“You must be resilient because you could be working in austere environments, and you have to have assertiveness.

 “I enjoy putting into practise all the training I’ve received to give the best possible care. We all work within our skillset and strengths and when we deploy, we deploy as one big family.”

George will be based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for three years before taking up a clinical post at a barracks or working in a field hospital unit.

Sister Mcmair, who is an NHS nurse working in critical care, said: “The military personnel are all well skilled and just like our NHS nurses know their limitations. They are simply one of us, we all work as a team.”

Want to find out more about a medical career in the Army?

The Army Medical Services is made up of four Corps: The Royal Army Medical Corps, Royal Army Dental Corps, The Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps and The Royal Army Veterinary Corps. Visit our website at the links below to find out more.

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