Physician career move
Physician career move

Ready when disaster strikes – specializing in disaster medicine

Marcia Travelstead

Table of Contents

A specialization in disaster medicine can help you help your organization be prepared for the worst






Specializing in disaster medicine was a somewhat natural path for emergency medicine physician John Broach, M.D., MPH. Although disaster medicine is open to physicians in other areas of expertise, Broach mentions that emergency medicine providers tend to be attracted to the field. Broach elected to have formal training in the field and works on hospital committees that focus on emergency preparedness.

What drew you to disaster medicine?

I think the coolest part about it is that it’s not only a clinical discipline, but it’s very much operational and has allowed me to participate in the hospital administrative work that goes into preparing the hospital for an emergency.

A lot of that administrative and operational work is sometimes very fascinating, impactful and interesting. …Also, the opportunity to deploy to areas that are in the middle of some sort of disaster is really special and forces one to think outside of the box in terms of how you provide care. It’s emergency medicine—but taking it to the next level of working with less to do more.

What’s the most challenging aspect of disaster medicine?

My frustration is not being always able to provide the care that we could because of the capacity limitations in the hospital, those types of things. However, in a way, my background in disaster medicine gives me a different lens on those types of situations. So, I wouldn’t say it’s something I don’t like about disaster medicine, it’s just things that are frustrating about the medical system in general.

Was there anything about pursuing disaster medicine that has surprised you?

The process of generating, testing and continuously adjusting disaster plans is incredibly multidisciplinary and often relies as much on operational considerations as it does on medical considerations. So, for example, in responding to a mass casualty incident in the emergency department, it would mostly be about providing the right clinical care. That’s the most important thing to get done. However, backing that up is incredible operational planning including getting supplies, how long it takes to register a patient and all of the background activities that need to take place.

What advice do you have for other physicians?

Every hospital/medical clinic has a requirement to have some sort of disaster plan. In many places, nobody has worked on those plans or part of the facility preparedness in a long time. Be willing to go to the meeting and pick up the plan and take a look at it. If deployment and going out into the field are your interests, there are government and non-governmental organizations that are always looking for people who are willing to go practice and give of their time. There are a wide range of opportunities, from going to a meeting once a month to taking a month and going to a hurricane or a war zone to provide medical care.

How can others get started?

For people in medical school or residency, consider looking into a disaster medicine scholarship because there are some really great training programs like the one that is here at UMass. We have fellowships that extend our training for a year or two. That’s the path that I took. It’s a good opportunity early in one’s career to really get your arms around what it’s like to be a disaster medicine physician. If physicians are past that point in their careers, get on the disaster committee at the hospital if you have an interest. Ask the organization’s leadership where you are if you can look at the emergency disaster plans. They will be happy to have the help. You can even end up being the point of contact for the disaster plan. Also, seek out training. There are many different classes you can take. 


Marcia Travelstead

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