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[BOOK REVIEW] Retrieval Medicine – a career that isn’t on the menu

I have had an immense pleasure of reading the Oxford Handbook of Retrieval Medicine. It was an enjoyable, satisfying and, above all, adventurous journey, and I’d like to share a couple of my reflections.

Before I dive into the exciting world of retrieval medicine, I must admit that I had little knowledge of the field before reading the book, and only after digesting a solid portion of the publication did I realise how ignorant I had been.

Nonetheless, I would bet my kingdom, and a horse, that many of you have little to no idea what retrieval medicine actually is. And this is exactly why you should read the book.

It will certainly blow your mind, inspire you and make you feel grateful for the truly Benedictine effort that went into preparing this unique handbook.

What is retrieval medicine?

Denis De Mesmaeker


The back of the book kindly informs us that it is aimed at retrievalists, emergency medicine and intensive care practitioners. Perhaps you need to be one to understand the definition presented in the book. I hope the authors will forgive me for offering my own explanation:


In a nutshell, retrieval medicine answers one question: what happens to the patient between their accident and the Emergency Department?


The answer seems trivial: an ambulance, a helicopter or the main doors – these are the conventional routes of entry into the department. Retrievalists, however, aren’t happy with the answer: how could that patient, who just fell down while mountaineering in rural Cumbria, find their way into the ambulance. And into the hospital that is equipped well enough to help.

When they bleed out and descend into the hypothermia in a very hard-to-access place, the ambulance won’t magically materialise itself there: it needs to be called, coordinated with a local hospital or a major trauma centre. Crisis teams need to be put in place, resources shifted, risks assessment made. Transportation and logistics on every node of transfer route have their own challenges, and we need to make sure that the patient is provided with the best quality of care on each stage.

An immense, high-volume, nerve-wracking, critical, dangerous, and exciting work is going on behind the scenes hours before your patient arrives for your A-to-E assessment.


And this book is about that.


What is in the book?

No one would like to see this process being handled by junior, inexperienced staff, with inadequate equipment and transport routes, rescue teams and organisations, all assembled ad hoc, in the hope that it will somehow work this time.

The handbook is a complete and thoroughly researched blueprint of how to set up, organise and run a retrievalist centre.

It will give you advice on almost everything: from lists of equipment, funding sources and governance strategies to education and research programmes.

It even contains a whole catalogue of checklists, ready-to-use solutions and protocols, fundraising and publicity advice, and a review of how these services are dealt with in other countries.

Apart from that, you’ll find detailed, specialist workups of many emergencies, from cardiopulmonary support to neonatal and paediatric retrieval.

The completeness and insight of the chapters show that the authors really did their homework, and the level of detail, put in a very short piece guarantees the most useful, concrete and no-nonsense information.


Pros and cons

Positive aspects:

  • A thoroughly researched blueprint of a retrievalist centre with ready-to-use solutions, quick fixes, protocols, and checklists make you wonder why would anyone give it away for this price.
  • Catalogue of the most common and most difficult emergencies, with a very specialist knowledge, compressed in a handy guide.

You may want to improve:

  • The definition of retrieval medicine and why you should read this book isn’t readily available until you read a couple of chapters; this may put you off if you want an answer straight away
  • Description of emergencies is aimed at people who really know what they are doing, and is meant to be a top-up of their knowledge. If you’re looking for a handbook of what to do in these situations, I would recommend Oxford Handbook of Acute Medicine or the good ol’ cheese and onion.


Finally, I am not one of the specialists this book is aimed for, and this could be the causa efficiens of my initial naivety. In my own defence, however, I have been working as a student doctor in a major trauma centre for a couple of months now and, among a long list of specialties, this one wasn’t on the menu. Even though it could be an exciting choice for many of my colleagues.

Even when I’m writing this, a word “retrievalist” isn’t in the MS Word’s dictionary. Perhaps it’s about to change.

And if anything, this book is the best advocate for it.



Oxford Specialist Handbook in Retrieval Medicine

Edited by Dr Charlotte Evans, Associate Professor Anne Creaton, Dr Marcus Kennedy, and Dr Terry Martin


Published: 03 November 2016

704 Pages | 63 black and white line drawings


ISBN: 9780198722168

About the author

Max Brzezicki

Max Brzezicki

Passionate about evidence-based medicine and science, likes slicing meat, crushing rat brains, criminal & public law, foreign languages, rhetoric, history, classical studies and political thought. FNS since 2015.

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