A ship is a small community, not unlike a small country town, and like any small community it needs its medical care.
But when that small community is also a modern warship, the medical services required go way beyond those normally available from a local GP clinic.
The four-member medical team in the upgraded Anzac class frigate HMAS Perth (III) provides the 182-strong ship’s company with everything from general health advice and first aid for minor injuries through to care for serious injuries, and can even perform life-saving surgery at sea if required.
The team is comprised of Lieutenant Doctor Phil Marmion, Petty Officer Maritime Logistics - Medic (POML-MED) Gavin ‘Tex’ Cowie, Able Seaman Maritime Logistics - Medics (ABML-MED) Bonnie Dromgool and Dan Foley.
An Anzac class frigate normally carries two medics, but Perth’s medical team has been expanded with a third medic and a doctor for the international deployment Perth will embark on immediately after completing maritime warfare training in the Coral Sea.
Adding Lieutenant Doctor Phil Marmion has boosted the medical capability available to Perth and ships sailing with her - a benefit demonstrated recently while transiting up the Australian east coast when a sailor serving in the accompanying Spanish combat support ship ESPS Cantabria, required a precautionary assessment for what was fortunately a minor medical issue.
Perth’s helicopter flew LEUT Dr Marmion to the Spanish ship where he was able to provide the required medical care and give the sailor the ‘all-clear’.
17 year naval veteran Petty Officer Gavin ‘Tex’ Cowie has been a navy medic for eight years and posted to Perth since August last year. A fitting posting considering his first sea posting was as a communicator in the guided missile destroyer HMAS Perth (II).
“Every day is busy; we run a daily sick bay, give vaccinations, routine check-ups, health advice and prescribed medication - just like a local GP,” Petty Officer Cowie said.
But this small team also remains ready to handle medical emergencies a local GP would never have to.
“For every emergency that could possibly happen in a ship, we’re there.
“We’re trained to handle mass combat casualties, toxic hazards, fires, floods, electric shocks or casualties from aircraft crashes on deck, man overboard incidents or rescue situations,” Petty Officer Cowie said.
The medical team also trains the Ship’s Medical Emergency Team - 12 sailors from other categories including cooks, stewards and naval stores, who have advanced first aid training and support medics during emergencies.
“I enjoy the responsibility of the job, although it’s nice to share that responsibility while we have a doctor on board.
“At times you have to make some big decisions that affect people’s lives,” Petty Officer Cowie said.
As with all RAN ships, Perth’s doctor and medics also support the mental health of crew members doing stressful jobs at sea, isolated from family and friends ashore.
“Because consultations with us are confidential, crew members feel comfortable speaking openly about their concerns.
“Just being able to talk things through helps them stay focused and we can connect them with more specialised assistance if they need it,” Petty Officer Cowie said.
For Lieutenant Dr Marmion, this trip is his first international deployment in a major fleet unit in his seven year naval career, which began while studying medicine at university.
Dr Marmion has previously served in smaller Darwin-based RAN ships and joined Perth for the final stage of her recent Unit Readiness Evaluation, which tested every department to make sure they were ready for action.
“I’m enjoying getting to know everyone on board, working with this team, and taking a holistic approach to the health of the ship’s company.
“Ultimately though, we are a 24 hour-a-day medical service with an experienced and well-trained team that has been tested and passed with flying colours.
“I’m confident we’re ready for anything,” Lieutenant Dr Marmion said.
Imagery is available on the Australian Defence Image Gallery: http://images.defence.gov.au/TS13-022.