Doctor Joshua Rempell has been in unstable countries and worked under less-than-ideal conditions before. He’s been to South Sudan during the African nation’s civil war; in Haiti (where he met his wife, a physician like him); and in Rwanda. But the Cooper University Hospital doctor specializing in emergency medicine admitted he’s never been in a situation like the one he was in recently: In Ukraine, hearing air raid sirens, training people crowded into bomb shelters, phones pinging alarms with each missile sighting.
Rempell went to Ukraine as part of a 12-person team of doctors, nurses and paramedics to train civilians, first responders and medical personnel in emergency medical care, including Stop the Bleed training, care for chemical and biological attacks, trauma and life support, and training in mass casualty events. The two-week trip was organized by International Medical Corps and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.
The reputations of two sponsoring organizations, Rempell said, was one of the reasons he decided to go on the mission, even though the father of two young children understood the risks. Though he said it was a little quieter while he was in Ukraine, the group stayed in Kiev, as well as the eastern city of Dnipro, closer to the Russian border — and to the fighting.
Rempell had undergone International Medical Corps training in the past, and knew how to assess personal risk, how to minimize it and how to respond in potentially dangerous situations. The nonprofit handled transportation and security, and so he felt as safe as could be expected in a country actively under attack.
“What often was just in my mind was how random these (military) strikes were, and they’re just coming from a distance. There was an app we all had on our phones and whenever there’s a missile sighting, it goes off depending on where they think it’s going. That was constantly going off, constantly in the background that at any point, really anywhere. Living like that, for people in Ukraine, is so different than anything we see here.”
Rempell, who teaches residents at Cooper, has a background not only in emergency medicine but also a master’s in public health and a longtime interest in global health.
He’d never been in an active war zone before, so Rempell admitted he wasn’t sure what to expect. “The days where there were a lot of bombings going off, and we’re living under a different protocol than a lot of the Ukrainian people we’re training,” he remembered. “People would literally wait hours for training so we realized we’d have to adapt, so we’d do training in shelters. People came and they wanted training, and we were there to give it.
“The resolve of the participants to stay with it … people just were very appreciative and there was such positivity. People would wait, and we would figure it out ― much like we do with emergency medicine here in Camden.”