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ANZAC Day – the role of ophthalmology in the military

To mark ANZAC Day this year, we interviewed RANZCO Fellow and Colonel, Dr Viki Andersons AM RFD, on what it’s like working as a consultant in the Army Reserves.

Dr Viki Andersons

1. Can you tell us a bit about your role as Colonel in the Army Reserves?
I am currently serving as a Consultant in the Reserves but have in the past been Commanding Officer of the 3rd Field Ambulance (the unit of Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick) and later 3rd Health Support Battalion. That unit was deployed to East Timor where I served as the Commanding Officer of the United Nations Military Hospital.

2. What are the most common eye injuries you see working on the frontline?
The types of injuries encountered on the ground would be penetration of foreign bodies and chemical burns to major penetrating eye injuries. Recently there have been soldiers that have lost eyes in blast injuries. There is also some evidence that the shock waves from nearby blasts can have a detrimental effect on retinal ganglion cells similar to the concussive effect on brain cells.

3. What would a typical day look like for medical corps? What’s involved?
Basically, the army medical corps exists to look after those soldiers that put themselves in harm’s way for us. It is a privilege to be able to do that. All of the army’s medical specialists are in the reserve and are deployed when their particular skill set is required. It is felt by our military that eye injuries should be dealt with at high-level facilities so ophthalmologists are not deployed as such. I do often provide medical advice over the phone.

4. How is working as a military ophthalmologist different to working in a clinical setting?
While it is rare, I have performed eye surgery in the military setting and here it was essentially the same as at home except that it was in a tent.

5. How did you spend ANZAC Day this year?
On Anzac Day I attended the Dawn Service at my unit’s barracks then had breakfast there with the unit. After that, the unit travelled to the Adelaide CBD and marched as a unit in the ANZAC Day march. The 3rd Health Support Battalion has subunits in several states and provides a large number of medical specialists, nursing officers, pharmacists and combat medics for a range of deployments around the world.

I am very proud of the fact that our military deeply considers moral and ethical questions in all of our military interventions and always endeavours to treat local populations with respect and dignity. This makes our job as medicos a humbling experience and as I said earlier a distinct privilege.

Last updated: November 29, 2018

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