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What is Military Medicine?


Military Medicine constitutes the art and science of medicine as practiced in the Defence Forces or other military environments. It is a composite specialty, rooted in general practice and occupational medicine, embracing a wide variety of skills and knowledge, applicable both in the on-island and deployed setting, with the primary goal of contributing to the success of the mission. Practitioners are required to work in a unique socio-cultural environment with its own command structure but are also required to adhere to the traditional ethical principles of medical practice.

Professional characteristics

A Medical Officer (MO) is a specialist physician who practices medicine within a military environment, both at home and overseas. This role is unique. No existing discipline covers the extent or context of medical practice in the military. Military Medicine may be defined by its own unique set of professional characteristics. The MO:

  • Adheres to the code of conduct and duties of a physician.
  • Is a soldier.
  • Adopts a mission centred approach.
  • Is a generalist, capable of operating across a diverse set of defined roles.
  • Is subject to military law.
  • Is focussed on the health and welfare of soldiers.
  • Is an invested member of the military community.
  • Must reconcile and harmonise professional duties and responsibilities to both the individual soldier and the military organisation.
  • Must be a leader.
  • Is cognisant of the impact of the operational setting.
  • Is capable of performing an array of advanced interventional procedures.
  • Exemplifies interoperability.
  • Demonstrates a keen sense of cultural awareness.
  • Advocates for those who are vulnerable.
  • Promotes health among the military and wider population.
  • Educates fellow soldiers.
  • Engages in systematic reflective learning.

The role of the specialist

The role of specialists in Military Medicine and the complex settings in which care is delivered share some of the characteristics of other medical specialties, but together comprise a unique and very distinct branch of medicine which demands its own specialist training, continuing professional development and ongoing accreditation. The organisational, logistical, legal and scientific underpinnings of the specialty therefore comprise a distinct body of evidence. The scope of practice of the specialist in Military Medicine includes independent practice in a role combining elements of the following specialties, in complex and sometimes unique settings:

  • General practice
  • Occupational medicine
  • Emergency medicine

A further array of specialist and sub-specialist elements contribute to the practice of military medicine:

  • Tropical medicine, travel health and infectious diseases
  • Public health medicine
  • Diving medicine
  • Aviation medicine
  • Pre-hospital medicine
  • Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear medicine
  • Tactical medicine
  • Disaster and humanitarian medicine
  • Sport and exercise medicine
  • Medical education

One of the more challenging aspects of medical practice in the military is the provision of emergency care in the deployed setting. Military deployments are invariably to remote and austere environments; military trauma often involves catastrophic injuries; and, contrary to popular perception, military trauma is, on the whole, a less than frequent occurrence in most missions. Medical practitioners are therefore faced with the prospect of managing the most complex trauma, in the least hospitable environments, for prolonged periods, and infrequently. The required skill set necessitates a comprehensive set of advanced interventional skills for the medical officer. Advances made in the management of major military trauma, unparalleled in the civilian setting, are contributing to the education and training of Medical Officers.

Medical Officers are subject to and must comply with Military Law. Medical Officers are also required to comply with certain personal physical fitness standards, weapons familiarity training, behaviour, dress codes and standards unique to their specific working environment. In addition, specialists in Military Medicine will be required to obtain and integrate the core competencies and leadership skills required of all commissioned officers, including:

  • The ability to plan, prioritise and organise.
  • Clear, concise and effective communication skills.
  • The ability to motivate others and work within a team.