Students at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine tried to save their patients, but no matter what they could have done, there was no hope. That might be because their patients were never alive to begin with.
The students were taken to the Mine Safety and Health Administration Academy in Beaver Thursday as part of WVSOM’s Rural Healthcare Initiative.
After a tour of the mock-mine setup, the students broke into two teams and had to help out in a couple of fake mining accidents.
The first accident involved a mannequin who was hit with a blast that tore a large chunk out of his shin. Each six-person team had to save the man while dealing with a mouthpiece of a self-rescue system. This caused the students to have to use grunts and hand signals to talk with one another.
The second accident featured a mannequin who had a head injury, a collapsed lung, and severe burns on his hands. By this point, the students seemed to have a good hang of talking with a mouthpiece in and zipped right to saving the victim.
Some mistakes were made, but students said they learned from their mistakes and learned a good bit about what a miner might go through.
“After the first scenario, looking at scene safety and self-awareness, making sure you take care of yourself is important,” third-year medical student Michael Bledsoe said. “After the second scenario it kind of reminded me how important C-Spine stabilization is. A broken neck or a possible broken neck, that’s something you forget about because you’re so worried about everything else going on. Participating in this activity really cemented that into my mind.”
Teachers told the students they had forgotten in the heat of the moment to keep track of how many people went in and out on the first scenario. After the second scenario, students were told to make sure they’re more careful with a possible neck injury.
“But if you’re going to make a mistake, do it in practice,” Bledsoe said. “I’m rotating in Logan and Mingo County. I’m from Logan County originally. That’s a mecca for coal mining. Several patients I’ve seen in outpatient clinics have black lung. They’re dealing with this type of environment every day. It’s just not this safe. Knowing what they’re going through, at least trying to simulate it, helped me know what they face when they come to see me as a physician.
“Additionally, if I’m working in a rural emergency department and an ambulance comes in from something that happened at a coal mine, I know what type of injuries to expect. I know how they tried to address them before they ever got to me. I’m not the first person they’ve seen. They’ve seen mine rescue teams. They’ve seen paramedics. They’ve been in an ambulance or a helicopter and then they get to me.”
Another student also said the accident practices were helpful, but it was something one of the doctors said she will always keep with her.
“He said anytime you have a patient in a trauma situation like that, you should always think that you might be the last person that person gets to talk to,” third-year student Darby Ford said. “For me, that really stuck with me because it really makes me think that whatever I do or whatever I say, I need to stay calm and keep that person calm.”
Ford said everyone at the mining academy helped them understand what it’s like to be a miner.
“We have a lot of coal miners in my area, so it’s been nice to get to learn more about the profession and what the patients I’m treating have been dealing with, whether it’s the potential diseases or injuries they could have,” she said. “When those patients come in to see me, I’ll have a better understanding as to how their work potentially affects their day-to-day lives.
“It’s been a great experience. We’ve been through the simulation mine multiple times. We’ve also had two case scenarios so I feel like I’m much more prepared for a mine disaster if something like that would come through my town, which there’s a potential for that since I’m from a small coal mining town.”
The trip to the academy was part of WVSOM’s Rural Health Initiative Program.
“Our program is funded by a grant from the higher education policy commission,” Rural Health Initiative Program Coordinator Janet Hinton said. “With those grant dollars, we do special activities with the industries common in West Virginia to give these students more experience as to what the patients that they’ll be treating in West Virginia will be suffering from.
“For example, there are a lot of coal miners in West Virginia, so we worked with MSHA to teach them as much as we could about coal mining and what a coal miner does, how they could be injured, and then the scenarios that were set up were things that could have happened and have happened in the mines.”
Hinton said these trips give the students wider knowledge about what goes on in the area and how they can relate to their patients.
“If a coal miner comes in and says, ‘There was an accident and I was in the rescue chamber,’ they’ll know what a rescue chamber is now. They know what a mover is and what a roof-bolter is now. We worked with MSHA last year too. We didn’t do the scenarios, but we were actually able to take the students all around.
“When our medical student from last year went back to his clinic he was rotating through, he had a miner come in who didn’t want to talk to him because he’s a student. The student said, ‘Well, sir, since you’re a coal miner, do you do high coal or low coal?’ The miner said, ‘You know the difference?’ The miner opened up to that medical student because it showed the miner that he wasn’t just some medical student from somewhere else, he’s from here. He understands what coal miners do.”
Hinton said the students have worked with industries other than coal mining too.
The goal of the Rural Health Initiative is to keep students in West Virginia, Hinton said.
“My job is to coordinate these activities plus other things to help recruit and to help get students to stay in West Virginia once they finish medical school,” she said. “With that goal, what better way to train them than to expose them to the industries that most people would work in West Virginia?”
Cody Neff writes for The Register-Herald in Beckley.