December 20, 2019 – In a world where the possibility of gun violence and mass shootings continues to grow, there’s an increasingly critical need to treat patients before they arrive in the emergency room. In many cases, for the patient to survive, their bleeding must be controlled as soon as possible.
This is a reality that motivates the work of UF Health emergency medicine physician Charles Hwang, M.D. ’13, EMT-T, FAEMS, the medical director of the Levy County Department of Public Safety and a specialist in tactical emergency medicine, which involves providing support to law enforcement in responses to national security threats, anti-terrorism activity, mass gatherings and disaster response missions.
Hwang, who is often stationed in The Swamp during Gator football games and was on site for alt right leader Richard Spencer’s 2017 visit to UF, says tactical emergency medicine involves a whole new level of care, as available resources are not as plentiful out in the world as in the emergency room.
“Tactical medicine is the practice of medicine in the operational environment,” he says. “First, you have to plan for the anticipated environment, weather and the possibility of dehydration. You have to plan for threats. In a large scale gathering, are people going to use vehicles as weapons? Will there be a need to decontaminate citizens from chemical exposure? You have to plan evacuation routes to nearby hospitals.”
Hwang is a graduate of the UF Junior Medical Honors Program, now the Medical Honors Program, which allowed him to matriculate into medical school during his second year of undergraduate studies. When it came time to choose a specialty, he pursued emergency medicine for the potential impact he could have on patients. While a UF medical student, Hwang found mentors in Christine Van Dillen, M.D., former medical director of Alachua County Fire Rescue; emergency medicine physician Eike Flach, M.D.; and Desmond Fitzpatrick, medical director for Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Operations and Disaster Preparedness and medical director of Lake County Emergency Medical Services. Hwang currently serves as a clinical assistant professor in the UF Department of Emergency Medicine.
“Patients in the emergency department are vulnerable and fearful of the unknown. They’re quite literally in the worst possible situations of their life,” Hwang says. “This is a place where emergency physicians can help and encourage while diagnosing and treating life-threatening situations.”
Hwang enjoys the challenges emergency medicine provides, like diagnosing and treating patients with often limited access to medical histories or diagnostic test results, but these conditions can often create high levels of stress. When the going gets tough, Hwang turns to his faith and his friends to decompress outside of work.
“It’s really easy to take work home with you. Learning how to compartmentalize is key,” he says. “After work is done, it’s done. Don’t take bad outcomes personally. Know that you did your best for every patient you take care of and that you left everything on the court. It’s hard but important to do.”
Hwang does his part to ensure the next generation is prepared for medical emergencies that may come their way by supervising the annual UF Summer Health Professions Education Program, or SHPEP, mass casualty incident exercise. He says the skills students learn during this activity are potentially life-saving.
“A mass casualty exercise where you learn to treat the sicker patients first and learn to stop the bleeding to save more lives is crucial,” he says. “This is something even grade school students can and should learn how to do.”