Donna Sampey - Combat Medical Attendant, Australian Army

Donna Sampey
Donna Sampey
‘I was always interested in the army, what it does and where it can take you. I suppose I got interested in what you see on TV and just wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, to do something for my country and give back a little bit.’

Growing up in WA, Donna Sampey had always been intrigued by the images of the army she’d see on TV – but little did she expect to find herself one day working as a combat medical attendant in far-flung lands. Career FAQs talked to Private Sampey about army life in the Solomon Islands.




Where are you currently stationed?

I’m in the Solomon Islands for four months as part of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands. We’re working here in support of the participating police forces, which include Australian, New Zealand and Papua New Guinean police, to maintain a stable environment in the Solomon Islands.

FYI: The Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) is known as Operation HELPEM FREN (Pidgin English for ‘Helping Friend’). RAMSI's mission is to assist the Solomon Islands Government in restoring law and order, economic governance, and improving the machinery of government.

What is your job there?

I’m an advanced combat medical attendant (CMA). My role is to provide initial health care at all levels to the Australian, New Zealand and PNG troops – all defence force members in the Solomon Islands. My work ranges from trauma-related incidents all the way down to splinters, blisters and coughs/colds. I carry out hands-on treatment, admin-related duties and also preventative health care.

What sort of schedule do you have? Are you on call all the time or do you work specific shifts?

We rotate through. We have set times when people who are on deployment come to see us about their health problems (‘sick parade’) and otherwise we just do admin duties throughout the day – filing, paperwork and all the more mundane stuff that needs to be done. We also go out on patrol either with the Australian or Papua New Guinean platoon in case they need any additional medical support. We’ll go out with them and be there in case there’s a trauma situation so we’re the first people there to deal with the trauma.

Then the next week we do CML (civil military liaison) tasking so when the CML go out on patrols throughout the island we’re out with them providing health care to the locals if required, talking to the villagers, that sort of thing.

On the third week through the rotation one of us is on call or on duty medic role, so if an incident occurs and the infantry needs to be immediately deployed, then we go out with them. That position is on a 24-hour basis so you could be called out any time during the day or night.

Keeping it rotated through means you don’t get stuck in the one role, you get to experience some variety.

So have you enjoyed it so far?

Yes, it’s been great! The second night I was here I was on duty medic and got called out to a situation which required us to be ready for pretty much anything, and that was quite a shock to the system for my second night here – but it’s been really good though.

Was that scary?

Not really, we were there just in case anything got out of hand – but nothing did.

What type of training did you do before you went to the Solomon Islands?

I’m a reserve member so our training differs a little from the full-time (regular Army) medics. Our training modules are split up into two-week modules and to be trade qualified you have to do three of those modules. I’ve just finished my first advanced module, which is for advanced trauma and advanced cardiac life support. That made me qualified enough to get onto deployments, and I’ve got another two courses to go until I’m a fully qualified advanced medical attendant.

FYI: Army Reserve members serve part-time but train and work alongside the full-time Army. In recent years Army Reserve personnel have been deployed to provide humanitarian relief to tsunami and earthquake victims, in our region and overseas, and have served alongside their full-time counterparts in operations in the Middle East and the Solomon Islands.

So you didn’t have previous medical training?

No, I didn’t at all. I’ve learnt everything that I know from the army.

How long have you been a reserve member?

Almost five years now.

What else do yo do when you’re not on deployment?

In my civilian employment life I work in environmental management for the federal government.

What made you decide to join the army?

I was always interested in the army, what it does and where it can take you. I suppose I got interested in what you see on TV and just wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, to do something for my country and give back a little bit. I also wanted some variety to my everyday life – a bit more of a challenge and the chance to meet some new people, and it’s certainly provided that – above and beyond that really. And here I am at the Solomon Islands!

Is it what you expected?

It’s probably better than I expected! I never thought I’d get to go on a deployment, especially as a reservist. We’re getting more chances to deploy as reservists and the things that I’ve been able to do – people pay thousands of dollars to do them and I get paid to do them!

What would you consider the best parts of the job?

Visiting different parts of Australia. Before I joined the reserve I’d never actually seen any other parts of Australia other than WA, which is where I live, and now I have been to pretty much every state in Australia and visited other countries as well. Getting deployed is always a bonus and it’s been really great to meet and get a whole new circle of friends just from being in the reserve. Also, the skills that I’ve acquired from being in the reserve are going to stay with me for life.

How’s the pay?

The pay’s alright, but it’s not the pay that you do it for. The money’s tax-free though, which is a bonus. I’m on pay grade scale 3, it’s about a hundred and ten dollars a day if you’re just doing basic work in Australia and then more if you’re deployed. As your skill level goes up and as you do more courses your pay goes up as well, and also if you become a corporal or a sergeant. As a medic you get higher pay since it’s a more difficult role.

What are the worst parts of the job – things that you don’t like?

There’s the usual stuff – sometimes there may be people that you might not like or get along with, or sometimes you’re told to do things that you might not want to do – but it’s all part of being a soldier and is like any job really.

What’s it like being a woman in the army?

As a medic there are probably a few more females in the trade than usual because females can’t be in combat roles like artillery or infantry at the moment – so there are more females in the combat support roles. Obviously we are the lower number wherever we go. There are twelve females on this deployment and I think there are a hundred and thirty people in total, so it’s about ten per cent. I guess you get used to being in the minority, but it’s the same as any workplace – if you pull your weight and do your job well and get on with people, then you’re accepted. I don’t find it an issue at all, I’ve never had a drama.

Are you going to continue your studies and keep going up the ranks of a medical assistant?

Yes I will. When I get back I’ll keep doing the courses and hopefully soon become a fully qualified advanced combat medical attendant and then probably go for promotion in a year or so – and keep moving up the ranks.

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