Expedition medicine - saving lives and going placesPublication date: 12 Oct 2017
What qualifications do you need? Are there any personal qualities that help?
Doctors usually need to be at least two years qualified; other medical professionals should follow guidance from their governing body. You need to attend an expedition medicine course, to learn how to apply your medical skills in remote environments. World Extreme Medicine run courses several times a year all around the UK and abroad.
Experience in emergency medicine and general practice stand you in good stead to deal with the wide range of medical problems on expedition, and the former is usually a prerequisite.
You should have a good working knowledge of managing fractures, wound management and dressings, so spending time learning from nursing staff in your department cannot be underestimated.
Crucially, you need to make sure you possess all of the technical skills required of the expedition itself, from winter mountain skills to simple camp-craft, to ensure you are comfortable operating in extreme environments.
It helps to be naturally sociable and able to fit easily into a team, and it goes without saying that you need to be physically fit.
When is a good time to take time out of a career? How do you ensure you will get a job on your return?
There are natural career breaks in the traditional training paths in medicine and it is now common for doctors to undertake an 'FY3' year to pursue a particular interest. Some people warned me that taking time out could pose problems for job applications on my return, but my experience was that these were unfounded concerns.
At interviews I was often asked more about what I had learned from my experiences as an expedition medic than other details on my CV.
Now I work full-time in the NHS, and it is possible to get away on trips within annual leave restrictions with some creative rota management and a few swaps here and there.
What kind of situations might you face?
Most problems on expedition are minor but occasionally full casualty evacuations need to be carried out, so it is worthwhile ensuring you have a robust system in place for this eventuality. My biggest tip is try to anticipate the unexpected.
In spring 2015, I was volunteering at a high-altitude rescue post in the Gokyo Valley in the Himalayas, running awareness talks on altitude sickness and providing medical assistance to trekkers and porters. A colleague and I had just finished the Saturday morning clinic when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck. We knew immediately what was happening and ran outside to safety. Bad visibility masked our view but we heard avalanches roaring in the valley around us.
Over the coming days we established communication with home and our colleagues further up the valley, and helped our local community get back on to its feet. Our rescue post became a place for people to gather and support each other.
Earthquakes had been one of the risks we discussed before leaving the UK, and we had agreed to always have a grab bag with water, passports and food ready to go in an emergency. It seemed like overkill at the time, but that small amount of forethought really helped. Now I have a grab bag on every expedition, and always keep a head torch by my bed in case of emergency.
Claire is an emergency medical doctor, honorary clinical lecturer in Extreme Medicine at the University of Exeter Medical School and fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. She is on Twitter, @grogan_claire
More information about World Extreme Medicine can be found at the following links:
Courses - www.expedition-medicine.com
Conference - www.extreme-medicine.com
Facebook - www.facebook.com/ExtremeMedicine
Twitter - @extremeexpo and @expedmedicine
If you are interested in studying a MSc in Extreme Medicine at the University of Exeter Medical School, visit: www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/taught/medicine/extrememedicinemsc/
World Extreme Medicine is holding a conference in Edinburgh from November 25-27.
Now in its sixth year, the World Extreme Medicine Conference is a platform for inspiring medical minds to meet, share experiences and promote cross-disciplinary working.
Find out more here.