Skill sets and competencies for the modern military surgeon: lessons from UK military operations in Southern Afghanistan

Injury. 2010 May;41(5):453-9. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2009.11.012.


Introduction: British military forces remain heavily committed on combat operations overseas. UK military operations in Afghanistan (Operation HERRICK) are currently supported by a surgical facility at Camp Bastion, in Helmand Province, in the south of the country. There have been no large published series of surgical workload on Operation HERRICK. The aim of this study is to evaluate this information in order to determine the appropriate skill set for the modern military surgical team.

Method: A retrospective analysis of operating theatre records between 1st May 2006 and 1st May 2008 was performed. Data was collated on a monthly basis and included patient demographics, operation type and time of operation.

Results: During the study period 1668 cases required 2210 procedures. Thirty-two per cent were coalition forces (ISAF), 27% were Afghan security forces (ANSF) and 39% were civilians. Paediatric casualties accounted for 14.7% of all cases. Ninety-three per cent of cases were secondary to battle injury and of these 51.3% were emergencies. The breakdown of procedures, by specialty, was 66% (1463) orthopaedic, 21% (465) general surgery, 6% (139) head and neck, 5% (104) burns surgery and a further 4% (50) non-battle, non-emergency procedures. There was an almost twofold increase in surgical workload in the second year (1103 cases) compared to the first year of the deployment (565 cases, p<0.05).

Discussion: Surgical workload over the study period has clearly increased markedly since the initial deployment of ISAF forces to Helmand Province. A 6-week deployment to Helmand Province currently provides an equivalent exposure to penetrating trauma as 3 years trauma experience in the UK NHS. The spectrum of injuries seen and the requisite skill set that the military surgeon must possess is outside that usually employed within the NHS. A number of different strategies; including the deployment of trainee specialist registrars to combat hospitals, more focused pre-deployment military surgery training courses, and wet-laboratory work are proposed to prepare for future generations of surgeons operating in conflict environments.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Afghan Campaign 2001-*
  • Afghanistan
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Competence*
  • General Surgery / education
  • General Surgery / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, Military / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Military Medicine / education*
  • Military Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Military Personnel
  • Multiple Trauma / epidemiology
  • Multiple Trauma / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Specialties, Surgical / education*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / education
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / statistics & numerical data
  • Traumatology / education*
  • Traumatology / statistics & numerical data
  • United Kingdom
  • Workload / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Workload / statistics & numerical data
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / surgery*