Professor Mike Almond, Forces in Mind trust professor of veterans and family studies at Anglia Ruskin University, and Clin Med board member talks about his experience of combining his two interests of medicine and aviation into one fulfilling career.
I grew up in Yorkshire and both my parents were teachers. My brother and I were both given a good education and were always encouraged to take on new hobbies and try as many things as we liked. Medicine was not something anyone thought I’d take to though, particularly as I attended an inner-city school in Rotherham.
It was at school that I first started to think about medicine as a career. I had an excellent biology teacher who ran outdoor pursuits as extracurricular activities, and whose father was in the Air Force. He made school-level biology interesting and encouraged all the kids to get out on the moors, taking in all that nature had to offer.
When it came to choosing a university, Nottingham seemed the perfect fit. It was close to a university air squadron, which meant that I could leave university with a medical degree and a pilot’s licence!
After getting my degree, I did my general medical training in Leeds and then went on to higher medical training at the London Hospital (now named the Royal London Hospital). As a medical registrar there, I joined the 4626 County of Wiltshire Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, part of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF) as a reservist. It allowed me to combine my two interests of medicine and aviation, and I joined just in time to be mobilised for the First Gulf War.
I was deployed in Saudi Arabia, tasked with evacuating patients back to the UK. It was challenging, but we were doing a good job and we were able to achieve the aims of the operation.
After deployment, I continued my medical training in the UK and became the commanding officer of the squadron in 1999, by which time I was also a consultant physician nephrologist at Southend Hospital. It was an incredibly busy time in my life, as I was trying to balance two jobs and a family.
Then, in 2003 the squadron was mobilised again for the Second Gulf War. I was deployed to Cyprus, working to ensure the safe transfer of patients from Iraq via Cyprus and then on to Germany and the UK, providing care both on the ground and in the air.
This led to me becoming a staff officer for the RAuxAF before being deployed to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan to work as a physician. There, we dealt with really unusual cases outside of normal UK practice, involving serious heat injury, snake bites, some paediatrics and the medical aspects of combat injury. We were fortunate that the hospital out there was very well equipped.
Fast forward to 2016 and I retired from the NHS to spend more time with the RAuxAF, providing aero-evacuation medical services and aviation medical services to the regular air force. In 2018 I was deployed to South Sudan, working for 8 months with the United Nations.
We’ve come so far in treating veterans’ health, but I really hope to see a commitment from all NHS trusts that they will become signatories of the armed forces covenant and ensure that all hospitals are veterans-aware.
I’ve been so fortunate to have an incredibly interesting and fulfilling career. The only real struggle I’ve faced was in attempting to stretch the boundaries of what was possible working both within the NHS and the military – and making sure that both organisations understood the needs of the other. The NHS needed to be prepared, for example, to release me to the military when I was needed, but it also benefited from the military training I could give back to the NHS on my return.
Having been employed by both organisations, I now have an insight and understanding of the physical and mental health of serving and ex-serving people. We’ve come so far in treating veterans’ health, but I really hope to see a commitment from all NHS trusts that they will become signatories of the armed forces covenant and ensure that all hospitals are veterans-aware.
Find out more about the Forces in Mind Trust here.
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