For the last six months, emergency medicine and critical care physician Roderick Fontenette has been treating patients as if he were at UC Davis Health. But he’s been doing it at 35,000 feet.

Since April, Air Force Lt. Colonel Fontenette has been serving as the theater director of the Critical Care Air Transport Teams (CCAT) out of Ramstein Air Base in Germany. His team consists of a physician with critical care training, a critical care or emergency medicine nurse and a respiratory therapist. They’re responsible for transporting critically ill and injured patients to a higher level of care and providing medical care during flights.

“We're basically a flying intensive care unit,” explained Fontenette. “It's very similar to situations I've seen working at UC Davis Health. Concepts such as resource utilization and team management are vitally important when flying, and you must also take into consideration the many stressors of flight. We have a three-person team and don't have specialists immediately available if issues were to occur.

The Critical Care Air Transport Team supports missions for anyone with a military role. Care is provided for members of all military branches, dependents, retirees, and even contractors. At times, the team also provides care and transport for critical patients with no military affiliations.

In August, Fontenette and his team participated in air evacuations out of Afghanistan. They transported U.S. citizens and many Afghan refugees.

“During those flights we transported a lot of really sick pediatric patients, so I was thankful for the training and skillset I've been able to develop over the years in the Pediatric Emergency Department here at UC Davis,” said Fontenette. “As a level I adult and pediatric trauma center, we see a wide range of clinical scenarios at UC Davis. It made me feel much more comfortable caring for those kiddos, and this highlights the importance of military-civilian partnerships.”

As a level I adult and pediatric trauma center, we see a wide range of clinical scenarios at UC Davis. It made me feel much more comfortable caring for those kiddos, and this highlights the importance of military-civilian partnerships.Roderick Fontenette

At UC Davis, Fontenette serves as an emergency medicine and critical care physician. He is also the military associate program director for a unique partnership. Military emergency medicine residents are integrated at UC Davis Health, thanks to an arrangement with the David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base.

The partnership began in 1995 with an Air Force residency rotation in trauma surgery at the medical center. Since then, programs have been steadily expanding. In 2017, the partnership between the Department of Emergency Medicine and the Air Force was established. Nine military residents have graduated from the program, with several going into fellowships and others now serving on active duty around the country.   

Roderick Fontenette (far right), an Air Force Lt. Col., is military associate program director for military emergency medicine residents

“Each year we accept five new military emergency medicine residents to the program,” explained Fontenette. “We offer a military-unique curriculum and fully embed them in a civilian hospital. We want them to absorb every experience UC Davis has to offer to any resident, but also mentor them on how they can apply that experience downrange in a resource-limited environment.”

Today, including the physicians in residency training programs, more than 200 veterans work at UC Davis Health. Their jobs range from physicians to nurses to technicians to police officers.

“The value brought by our physicians from the military including those in the military residency training program, and all of our veteran employees at UC Davis cannot be understated,” said Nathan Kuppermann, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. “Their experience in providing medical care during armed conflicts has played an important role in advancing the care we are able to provide our patients daily.”

Fontenette agrees and believes the benefits of the partnership are mutually beneficial, calling it a “win-win.”

“Because we are a level I trauma center, UC Davis closely mirrors the experience of being a military health care professional,” said Fontenette. “Because of that experience, I am 100% confident each of our military physicians and trainees will be ready to serve from day one when they are called to duty.”