Working as an Antarctic Medical Practitioner
The Polar Medicine Unit of the Australian Antarctic Division runs one of Australia's most remote, unusual and rewarding medical practices.
Each group of expeditioners, isolated from usual medical facilities by Antarctica's remoteness, requires a medical practitioner. These groups include Australia's continental stations – Casey, Davis and Mawson – the subantarctic station at Macquarie Island, and ship and summer field groups.
Supported by three full-time medical practitioners at the AAD's Kingston headquarters in southern Tasmania, Antarctic medical practitioners (AMPs) provide surgical, medical and dental care to one of the most isolated groups of people on earth.
An AMP at one of the four stations is the sole doctor for around 12 months, providing health care services for a group of expeditioners that can fluctuate from approximately 12 in winter to more than 75 in the shipping season (October – March). Passengers and crew on expedition voyages might call at the station several times during the season for a few days, increasing that number.
Every expeditioner must pass stringent pre-departure medical checks and be declared fit for travel to Antarctica, so health is generally not a significant problem. However, medical, surgical and dental emergencies do still occur and the doctor is responsible for dealing with these.
As well as supporting Antarctic health care, the AAD's Polar Medicine Unit conducts a research program aimed at increasing our knowledge of how humans interact with the Antarctic environment.
The experience of living and working in this remote region is very different from that of most suburban or rural practices, and most AMPs look back on their time in this beautiful, harsh and icy environment as stimulating and rewarding.
The Polar Medicine Unit in the news:
- February 2013: Students get icy start to remote medicine
- July 2012: Antarctic equipment to help restore sight in East Timor
- March 2011: Antarctica - the ultimate in remote practice [PDF]
- July 2010: Dr Ben O'Leary talks about 10 months in Antarctica as a sole medical practitioner
- January 2009: Dr Madeleine Wilcock talks to ABC local radio about working as an AMP at Davis station in Antarctica
- November 2008: Injured expeditioner evacuated from Davis station by US aircraft