USA Health residents team up with Orange Beach EMS to improve emergency care


Patient care doesn’t start when a patient is offloaded from a gurney in the hospital’s emergency department.

“It starts in the field,” said Paul Henning, M.D., associate program director of the Emergency Medicine Residency Program at USA Health and medical director of Orange Beach Fire/Rescue. “The expertise that a patient gets in the field can determine outcomes.”

Henning, who also serves as an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, said it is vital that physicians understand what happens in the prehospital stage of care.

For that reason, residents in USA Health’s Emergency Medicine Residency Program, established in July 2019, are given the opportunity to rotate with emergency medical services (EMS) in Orange Beach, Ala. Stationed at the Orange Beach Fire Department, resident physicians respond to emergency calls alongside paramedics and firefighters.

“It bridges the gap between the physician and the paramedic. Seldom, if ever, do physicians have this kind of exposure to prehospital emergency services,” Henning said. “It also gives the physician more perspective of what the paramedics are doing in the field. If we have an opportunity to improve the prehospital scope of practice, then we have accomplished our goals.”

Andrew Warner, M.D., a second-year emergency medicine resident at USA Health, took a nonlinear path to emergency medicine. A former Green Beret, Warner served with the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group on tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He went on to earn his medical degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, followed by residency training in family medicine and emergency medicine at USA Health.

Warner has great respect for the Orange Beach first responders, who “epitomize true dedication to patient care and outcomes,” he said. “I have further learned to appreciate just how critical those precious seconds in the prehospital setting are for patient survivability.”

The partnership is mutually beneficial for USA Health’s emergency medicine residency program and Orange Beach’s paramedical and fire-rescue services. Resident physicians and paramedics can provide a higher level of care to patients while learning from one another.

Before starting the EMS rotation, the residents are required to be fully licensed by the state and to have completed an online medical direction course, Henning said. If any questions or concerns arise, Henning and other emergency medicine attending physicians with USA Health are always available to provide their medical direction.

In addition, residents cannot start the EMS rotation until their second year. As the first class of residents graduate to their second year, six residents will rotate throughout the academic year, plus third years have the option to do an additional EMS rotation, Henning said.