What interested you in aviation medicine rather than other specialties?
I grew up in New Zealand and, after completing medical school, I was always drawn to prehospital medicine and working outside. This led me to clinical roles on ski fields, with the Australian Defence Force and working on aircraft. So, I completed my postgraduate study at the Otago School of Aviation Medicine. Having worked for various organizations, I was able to learn different aspects of operations and the planning side of air medical tasking, which I found both challenging and rewarding.
My father and grandfather owned trucking businesses, so growing up I always had a good understanding of logistics from listening to the radios that were constantly on in our kitchen. I guess I was naturally drawn back to logistics and planning; it’s in my DNA (fortunately, there are no radios in our kitchen).
You have mentioned your experience with the military, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and ski patrols, as well as working in disaster response; what is it about providing prehospital care for special missions that inspires you?
I truly love the challenge. Working to solve problems in hard-to-reach places, austere environments or during a humanitarian response requires a considerable degree of planning and coordination. There are so many moving parts and agencies to interface with that it requires a good team and good communication. I thrive on the challenge of solving new problems and having a great team to work within.
As the Managing Director of Medical Rescue, you oversee the company’s work; do you also have time to go on rescue and care missions in your capacity as a doctor?
Managing serious injuries in a remote, often dark and freezing cold environment with a committed team of professional ski patrollers is extremely rewarding
I definitely used to work on the aircraft and in the mountains but, over the years, I have shifted my focus increasingly into supervisory and coordination roles. It is difficult to maintain the clinical skills needed when you spend most of your time in a senior management role, and you need to acknowledge where your strengths lie. For me, this is in understanding the challenges of remote or deployable health, and building the systems to support those patients and clinicians who are out there in the field.
By far the most rewarding job for me has been working on the New Zealand ski fields. I was involved initially as a junior doctor and then over 14 seasons I left the role as an experienced alpine doctor teaching junior staff and ski patrollers, and was responsible for the care of thousands of snowsport users across five different ski resorts. Managing serious injuries in a remote, often dark and freezing cold environment with a committed team of professional ski patrollers is extremely rewarding. My knees don’t appreciate the snow as much as they used to, but I’ll always miss it and the multidisciplinary teamwork.
Medical Rescue was ranked the fourth fastest growing company in Australia in the Australian Financial Review, and won the 2022 Gold Coast Business Excellence Awards for Business of the Year, as well as the 2022 Queensland and 2022 Australian Export Awards for Professional Services. To what do you ascribe your success, especially in recent years?
The Covid-19 pandemic was a pretty uncertain and challenging time where our people and our processes thrived.
We were planning for the worst well in advance of Covid-19 reaching Australia, but it still came on so quickly. Within a number of days, the Australian border was closed and we really didn’t know what was going to happen with international air medical cases.
We had fairly robust business continuity plans in place that I thought we would never use, we put these into action early and started to plan how we could continue moving our personnel across state and international borders so that we could keep flying and delivering contracted services to our customers. At the same time, we elected to focus on helping the Australian Government with the Covid-19 response and growing our domestic business.
The success of any business is its people
The success of any business is its people. We aren’t the largest of companies; during the Covid-19 pandemic, we had about 400 staff working around Australia. It was an incredibly difficult time. As a deployable health service and one of Australia’s business international air ambulance services, the border closures and sudden layers of bureaucracy to gain exemptions to move across the borders put a significant strain on our people. Our operations hub in Queensland did an amazing job of working through the new processes that were introduced by state and federal government. We were the only air ambulance service in the Asia-Pacific region to be moving Covid-positive patients across international borders. We were even tasked to fly a patient from Russia to Japan using our Australian aircraft and crew because there were limited air medical providers.
This could only have been achieved through a dedicated team of professionals who worked incredibly hard across multiple jurisdictions so that we could continue flying.
In addition, I think the company’s success is attributed to our ethic that we are committed to solving problems for our clients and we ultimately want the same outcome, so we view the work that we do with our customers as a collaboration. We all want what is best for the patient, which is to get the right level of care, at the right place, at the right time.
We have a very simple mission statement:
- Do what’s right for our patient
- Do what’s right for our client
- Do what’s right for our people
- Do what we say we will do
- Do it well.
If we follow this, we can’t go wrong.
Medical Rescue has hubs around the world and is now collaborating and developing strong links in Thailand and the UAE. Are you planning to grow your support and repatriation networks in more countries?
Yes, we are building additional capability in Thailand, Dubai, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but also smaller hubs in Turkey and Dallas. This will allow us to better serve our insurance and assistance customers through the provision of commercial escort and deployable health teams in these regions. Also, our air ambulance capability in Thailand is allowing us to reach farther into Asia than we can currently go with our Australia-based aircraft.
As well as growing your hubs, what services and types of provision are you looking to expand?
Medical Rescue offers an array of deployable health services including air ambulance, rescue helicopter, humanitarian medical teams, and remote health support to mining, construction and defense. We plan to offer all of these services in each region over the next few years, starting with air medical escorts and air ambulance services.
What aircraft do you have in your fleet and how are they suited to the medical and evacuation solutions, both locally and abroad?
We own our own Hawker 800 XPi, which is Australia’s only air medical jet dedicated solely to international air ambulance. It is not used for corporate charter or contracted by the state government, so it is genuinely on call 24/7 for international evacuations – based at the Gold Coast International Airport in Queensland. This is ideally suited for our region and can reach Thailand, Singapore or Hawaii. If we need to go further, we work with our wing-to-wing partners.
We own our own Hawker 800 XPi, which is Australia’s only air medical jet dedicated solely to international air ambulance
Our aircraft is supported by a Dassault Falcon 50 and Citation CJ4 to accommodate for multiple missions at once.
Do you have specialized equipment on the aircraft and how does it contribute to the sorts of medical care that Medical Rescue can provide?
The air ambulance is configured in the same way you would expect to see any Australian air medical jet, it is a full intensive care unit (ICU) configuration with the standard ICU equipment including ventilator, invasive monitoring options, iStat, syringe drivers etc. We have chosen to use a Corpuls 3 monitor and Hamilton T1 ventilator, which we use on all aircraft including rotary wing.
With a multinational and diverse range of staff, how do you approach initial and continuing training?
Having previously taught aeromedical retrieval at Bond University, I have continued to develop air medical training packages for our staff. This ranges from training for commercial escort staff, clinical operations staff, and for air ambulance crew. Most of this is delivered face-to-face where possible, but now includes MS Teams meetings for staff who can’t be there in person.
We have a clinical training matrix that we want all staff to complete every two years, focusing on clinical skills, equipment use, and patient and packaging for transport
We have a clinical training matrix that we want all staff to complete every two years, focusing on clinical skills, equipment use, and patient and packaging for transport. For this, we have a fantastic clinical educator who is a very experienced rescue flight paramedic. He visits our remote sites to run through scenario-based training. Our clinical governance committee focuses on reviewing cases and developing any specific targeted training that may be required for a specific site or service.
We also now need to visit the international hubs to provide face-to-face training.
What is going to be your main focus for the end of this year?
There are so many things happening this year, my focus is going to be on expanding our air medical capability through the new hubs that we are opening and engaging with the insurance and assistance network to make sure they know we are here, and how to contact us ([email protected]).
I’m also focused on expanding our ground operations here in Australia and the Middle East with additional deployable health teams to support military, government, and the mining and construction industry.