Enlisted Airman diagnoses, treats patients

Tech. Sgt. Julianne Cacal, 95th Aerospace Medicine Squadron independent duty medical technician, checks a patient's blood pressure. As an IDMT, Sergeant Cacal diagnoses and treats servicemembers under the license of a supervising doctor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes)

Tech. Sgt. Julianne Cacal, 95th Aerospace Medicine Squadron independent duty medical technician, checks a patient's blood pressure. As an IDMT, Sergeant Cacal diagnoses and treats servicemembers under the license of a supervising doctor. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Military patients are used to having officers or civilians with doctorates of medicine as their primary care providers. However, patients sometimes take a second or third look as they see enlisted Airmen performing diagnosis and providing treatment, functions normally performed by doctors. 

Those looks are what Tech. Sgt. Julianne Cacal sometimes experiences while performing her job as a 95th Aerospace Medicine Squadron independent duty medical technician, generally known as "enlisted doctor." 

As the only Edwards IDMT, Sergeant Cacal diagnoses and treats servicemembers all under the license of a supervising doctor. 

"Whatever I do, I always have to tell the doctor and make sure my diagnosis and treatment are correct," she said. "I see the patient from start to finish, form a conclusion for diagnosis and treatment, and present it to the doctor. The doctor will either agree with me or make some recommendations." 

This is part of the student-teacher relationship between an IDMT and the primary care provider. The doctor trains the IDMT on how to be a "provider." 

"Sergeant Cacal has done a great job," said Capt. (Dr.) Dillard DeHart, 95th AMDS flight surgeon and Sergeant Cacal's preceptor. "She is very enthusiastic about the IDMT program. She handles a lot of the cold and flu-type illnesses that could occupy most of doctors' time. IDMTs are really very beneficial." 

But being an enlisted provider is just one area of IDMT's multi-facet of responsibilities. The sergeant also has to perform other functions, including bioenvironmental, dental, public health, radiology, laboratory and immunizations as well as other medical careerfields. With these responsibilities, there is a running joke among medics -- IDMTs are "15 careerfields in one." It may seem more like a "walking medical unit." 

However, what Sergeant Cacal does on Edwards is actually part of her training in preparation for her future deployment. IDMTs have rigorous annual training to maintain their certification. Aside from performing public health and dental functions, these specialized medical technicians also serve as the health care providers when doctors are not available at deployed or remote locations. 

"IDMTs are very important in deployed situations," Captain DeHart said. "Some of the units might not have doctors with them. They just deploy with IDMTs. They handle basic problems you see every day on deployed locations. Sometimes, IDMTs are basically the doctor at the remote site. They handle most of the medical needs for that unit." 

Prior to becoming an IDMT, Sergeant Cacal was a regular medic. She was then tasked by the Noncommissioned Officer Retraining Program to undergo IDMT training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. During the training, she had to learn various functions for four months. 

Sergeant Cacal said she loves her job as an independent duty medical technician. They are indispensable because they can perform some responsibilities performed by doctors, dentists and public health officers. 

"I love my job because I feel special," Sergeant Cacal said. "It is something I am proud of because I have made it through the class and now performing my job."