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Memorial Hermann Life Flight Hires Medic Trained in Joint Program with U.S. Army

ThomasDelafuente_LifeFlightMedicFor U.S. Army veteran Thomas De La Fuente, EMT-P, FP-C, every day lately seems to be a good day – especially on the days when he is flying. Having officially joined Memorial Hermann Life Flight® six months ago, flight paramedic De La Fuente is beginning to feel more comfortable in his role utilizing the skills he learned in the joint training program with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (TMC) and the U.S. Army Reserve Aviation, while he was still an Army Reserve flight medic.

De La Fuente never planned to join the military. While he pursued a more academic path, his older brother became a firefighter in the Army. Their different paths didn’t really register with the younger De La Fuente until a few months later when his brother came home to visit, in uniform. It was then that the younger De La Fuente decided that the Army was much more appealing to him than his college classes.

From that point forward, he moved quickly from being newly enlisted, to becoming a flight medic, to attending para-rescue training in New Mexico. After that, he went to Philadelphia where he did ride-alongs with a fire department and clinical rotations at a hospital. All of this led to him volunteering to be a part of the Army Flight Medic Program when it launched at Memorial Hermann-TMC in 2013.

The two-week program provides training for flight medics and was originally created as an optional pre-deployment training for Army Reservists. Reservists are placed in clinical rotations that consist of classroom lectures regarding medical and trauma aspects of patient care, patient and aero medical safety briefings, invasive skills practices, and hands-on experience with caring for the severely ill in the acute phases of medical management.

De La Fuente’s unit was preparing to deploy when he heard about the Flight Medic Program. “I thought, ‘maybe I can learn a thing or two from the people who do this all the time,’” he said. “I don’t think anywhere has patients as sick as the ones here, or at such a high volume.”

Memorial Hermann-TMC is home to one of the busiest Level I trauma centers in the country, and Life Flight has the highest volume of any air ambulance service as well. For De La Fuente, the Flight Medic Program offered him the chance to learn from those he feels are top in their field who could prepare him for his role as a flight medic in the military. “I had attended many programs through the Department of Defense and I can personally tell you that there is nothing out there quite like the two-week rotations I experienced with Life Flight,” said De La Fuente. “For an Army flight medic, it is – to say at the very least – invaluable.”

“The Army uses this program to set the bar higher for its flight medics,” said George Tarver III, EMTT-P, FP-C, EMS-1, flight paramedic and clinical educator for Life Flight. Some reservists are EMTs or paramedics, while others may have combat medic or clinician backgrounds. To date, 34 students have gone through the program. Each class has four students. Some, like De La Fuente, have attended more than once – De La Fuente volunteered for the program three times.

“He stood out from the rest,” said Tarver, who called De La Fuente “a perfect hire.”

De La Fuente’s range of experiences helped prepare him for the flight medic exam in 2014, which requires 18 months of flight experience and critical care training, the latter of which he gained through the Flight Medic Program. Luck would have it that close to his Army separation date, a flight paramedic position was posted at Memorial Hermann. De La Fuente quickly applied for and was offered the job. “My service obligation to the Army technically didn’t end until Sept. 31, 2014, so I exhausted all of my vacation days to start working at Memorial Hermann as soon as possible.”

“He tells me every day we’ve flown together how happy he is to be here,” said Life Flight clinical educator and flight nurse Rodolfo “Rudy” Cabrera, B.S.N., CFRN, EMT-P, who served as De La Fuente’s preceptor.

Now with six months under his belt as a Life Flight paramedic, De La Fuente is appreciative of the many ways the Army Flight Medic Program prepared him for his current role. “I was able to take a look at the program with a hands-on approach and really ask myself ‘can I see myself doing this?’ and of course the answer was ‘definitely!’” he said. “The program also helped me throughout my orientation process since I was already familiar with the hospital, equipment, aircraft and procedures.”

De La Fuente is the first reservist to be hired by Memorial Hermann-TMC after participating in the Army Flight Medic Program. Of the 74 people employed by Life Flight, 18 of the 21 pilots and several flight nurses and paramedics are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.