Determined Dutch doctor takes on quarantine and training for dream job in the air

Dutch doctor Annelot van der Hooft hasn’t let border closures, COVID-19 restrictions and quarantine with a baby, stand in the way of a once in a lifetime opportunity to work as an RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Critical Care Doctor.

The pandemic cast uncertainty over her Australian aeromedical adventure, with her exemption to enter the country coming through just hours before her international flight.

“We weren’t sure when we would make it, first of all because I wasn’t sure whether my hospital would let me go, whether they would need me in intensive care,” Dr van der Hooft said. 

“I wasn’t sure if there were going to be flights and obviously the borders are closed,” she said.

 

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Fortunately, she got the “go ahead” just in time and was able to set flight across the world, with her husband, baby and golden retriever in tow. 

It’s been a lifelong dream to work as a doctor on a retrieval helicopter.

“When I was a five-year-old girl, I told my mum I want to be a doctor that comes from a rope to a ship,” Dr van der Hooft said.

Dr van der Hooft is one of 23 new new retrieval registrars who will be based with aeromedical services across Queensland.

Eight will be based Brisbane, working with the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter, the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Air Ambulance Jets, the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) and Queensland Government Air (QGAir).

Having worked as a physician on a ship in Antarctica and as an expedition doctor on bicycle tours of Africa and South America, she’s already had a taste of pre-hospital care. 

But the helicopter is a whole new world.

“Because Australia is such a big country and Queensland’s such a big state, here I get a chance to transport a lot of patients – whereas back home, we don’t really transport a lot of patients by air, everything is done by road,” she said.

After fourteen days quarantined in a Gold Coast hotel, Dr van der Hooft was eager to launch into LifeFlight’s world renowned training course, along with the other new recruits.

Dr van der Hooft’s training started with Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET), where trainees learn and practice how to break out of an aircraft, in the highly unlikely case it’s submerged in water. 

“It could save these doctors’ lives, most of the time people in the aircraft will survive the impact, so it’s just orientating themselves in the aircraft, knowing their plan and being able to escape,” LifeFlight Training Academy Sea Survival Instructor Jenevieve Peacock said. 

The registrars then took to the skies, to learn how to be winched down to a patient and bring them back up the wire, to the safety of the chopper. 

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue’s Chief Aircrew Officer Simon Gray said it’s a crucial skill that allows doctors to deliver critical medical care in otherwise inaccessible locations, such as boats at sea and rocky mountain peaks. 

“By being able to winch a doctor to the ground, means they can stabilise the patient and the chances of that person surviving, if they’re injured, is so much higher, which is so much what we’re about,” he said. 

The doctors also underwent an intensive clinical skills course, which features a series of high-pressure scenarios at the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service’s Whyte Island facility.

The realistic scenes included a car crash, a wild house party and an accident in a dark, noisy ship, to give recruits hands-on experience of scenarios they could face on the job. 

The Brisbane-based doctors also undergo QGAir specific aircraft familiarisation training, including winching with QGAir aircrew.  

QGAir General Manager, Samantha Stream, said QGAir is delighted to welcome Dr van der Hooft.

“We are proud to team with LifeFlight to enable highly-trained critical care doctors to be transported across the State’s aeromedical network and respond to emergencies,” Ms Stream said. 

The majority of the doctors’ work is performed on behalf of Queensland Health, under a ten-year service agreement.

RACQ are proud sponsors of the LifeFlight Rescue Critical Care Doctors.