Introduction: Calls for disaster medical assistance teams (DMATs) are likely to continue in response to international disasters.
Objective: As part of a national survey, the present study was designed to evaluate the education and training of Australian DMATs.
Methods: Data were collected via an anonymous, mailed survey distributed via State and Territory representatives on the Australian Health Protection Committee, who identified team members associated with Australian DMAT deployments from the 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami disaster.
Results: The response rate for this survey was 50% (59/118). Most of the personnel had deployed to the tsunami-affected areas. The DMAT members were quite experienced, with 53% of personnel in the 45–55-year age group (31/59). Seventy-six percent of the respondents were male (44/58). While most respondents had not participated in any specific training or educational program, any kind of relevant training was regarded as important in preparing personnel for deployment. The majority of respondents had experience in disasters, ranging from hypothetical exercises (58%, 34/59) to actual military (41%, 24/49) and non-governmental organization (32%, 19/59) deployments. Only 27% of respondents felt that existing training programs had adequately prepared them for deployment. Thirty-four percent of respondents (20/59) indicated that they had not received cultural awareness training prior to deployment, and 42% (25/59) received no communication equipment training. Most respondents felt that DMAT members needed to be able to handle practical aspects of deployments, such as training as a team (68%, 40/59), use of communications equipment (93%, 55/59), ability to erect tents/shelters (90%, 53/59), and use of water purification equipment (86%, 51/59). Most respondents (85%, 50/59) felt leadership training was essential for DMAT commanders. Most (88%, 52/59) agreed that teams need to be adequately trained prior to deployment, and that a specific DMAT training program should be developed (86%, 51/59).
Conclusions: This study of Australian DMAT members suggests that more emphasis should be placed on the education and training. Prior planning is required to ensure the success of DMAT deployments and training should include practical aspects of deployment. Leadership training was seen as essential for DMAT commanders, as was team-based training. While any kind of relevant training was regarded as important for preparing personnel for deployment, Australian DMAT members, who generally are a highly experienced group of health professionals, have identified the need for specific DMAT training.