Healthcare in the military: a career almost in dentistry
An insight into healthcare in the military from Major General Ewan Carmichael
The Henry Noble History of Dentistry Research Group was delighted to restart a programme of meetings post-pandemic with an excellent lecture, on healthcare in the military, given by a Glasgow Dental School alumnus, Major General Ewan B Carmichael CBE. Ewan outlined his career in Army Medical Services (AMS), beginning with his officer cadetship in 1980 as an undergraduate. On his graduation in 1982, his commission was confirmed at the rank of Captain in the Royal Army Dental Corps (RADC).
In Ewan’s first six years as a dental officer, he was often attached to army units undergoing Arctic training in Norway. He outlined how army chocolate rations for these troops would become frozen in the sub-zero temperatures, causing more than a few fractured cusps. In 1984, he transferred from a Short Service to a Regular Commission, and the balance of his duties began to change from clinical dentistry to medical tactics in support of military operations; the planning, preparation, training and operation of healthcare staff working in units – from combat units to field hospitals – in conflict zones.
It was stressed that field medical unit staffing had to be multi-disciplinary; obviously physicians, surgeons, dentists and nurses, but also administrative, transport, signalling, catering, engineering and even veterinary roles were involved. In addition to treatment for combat injuries, these facilities also provide a good level of primary care, treating ‘everyday’ accidental injuries or more routine illnesses. Ewan also indicated that while the primary role of field medical units is to provide healthcare to our military personnel, they often fulfil a role in giving humanitarian care to a local population especially in regions where conflict has disrupted civil administration. Of course, emergency care during conflict will also be provided to injured adversaries.
Having progressed through senior officer ranks, in 2012 Ewan was promoted to Major General and appointed Director General of Army Medical Services, the only dentist to have held this senior role.
After graduating from the Army Staff College, Ewan also had periods of service in the UK in military medical planning and training, including a term of service as Chief of Staff of the Defence Medical and Training Agency and a period as Director of Medical Plans (Army). He was privileged to be selected to found, and then lead, the UK’s Air Assault Medical Regiment, 16 Close Support Medical Regiment, and much of his talk centred on the role and responsibilities of a Commanding Officer.
Ewan served in both the first and second Gulf Wars as well as in Northern Ireland and in the Balkans, in Bosnia and Macedonia. Additionally, his unit also took part in some unique, ‘niche’ roles which he was able to touch upon. Later, as Commander 2 Medical Brigade, he was responsible for generating and training British and multinational field hospitals simultaneously for service in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Ewan described in detail military medical simulation as preparation for operational deployment. During this period, the AMS doubled chances of survival if wounded.
Having progressed through senior officer ranks, in 2012 Ewan was promoted to Major General and appointed Director General of Army Medical Services, the only dentist to have held this senior role. During this time, Ewan was appointed Honorary Dental Surgeon to the Queen; one of the more prestigious of the many honours he received during his career. In addition to his campaign and military honours, he was appointed MBE in 1991 and promoted to CBE in 2014. Ewan retired from Army service in 2015 after a career of almost 45 years. The presentation, ably illustrated by slides and video clips, was applauded enthusiastically by the audience. Giving his vote of thanks, Mike Gow, the Group chairman, expressed appreciation to Ewan, not only for his excellent lecture, but also for his outstanding service in the military, to our country and to mankind.
Reproduced with permission from the journal of the Henry Noble History of Dentistry Research Group.