Students get icy start to remote medicine

Australian Antarctic Division Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jeff Ayton, with medical student Jessie Ling. (Photo: Troy Daniels)
Australian Antarctic Division Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jeff Ayton, with medical student Jessie Ling. (Photo: Troy Daniels)
Medical student John Cherry sorting through medical supplies for Australia's Antarctic stations at head office in Kingston. (Photo: AAD)

Managing a broad spectrum of medical requirements, from hypothermia to sprains, or conditions requiring surgery or dentistry, may seem a daunting job requirement.

But three medical students are learning what it takes to be a doctor in Antarctica and other remote and extreme environments.

Jessie Ling, Felix Ho and John Cherry are taking part in the John Flynn Placement Program (JFPP) and will spend two weeks of each year, over the four year program, at the Australian Antarctic Division.

The program is designed to encourage more doctors to work in rural and remote areas to address shortages and improve the quality of healthcare for regional communities.

Chief Medical Officer with the Australian Antarctic Division’s Polar Medicine Unit, Dr Jeff Ayton, said it is important young people are exposed to career opportunities outside metropolitan areas.

“Many medical students are focused on working in the major city hospitals and simply aren’t aware of the breadth of options in remote and regional medicine,” Dr Ayton said.

“When working in smaller communities you can become a generalist doctor, and learn and practice a huge range of skills you may not get the chance to pursue or may have to give up if working in larger centres.

“In Australia's Antarctic program, our doctors are the only medical care available for up to 100 people on station and need to be able to perform general practice, surgery, emergency medicine, anesthetics and even dentistry, all supported by telemedicine back to Hobart, Tasmania.

“We hope that through the JFPP we will be able to introduce student doctors to the excitement and challenge of working in Antarctica and entice them to train towards a generalist career and come back at the completion of their degrees for a stint down south.”

Jessie Ling was one of a 1000 students who applied for just 300 places across Australia through the JFPP. The JFPP is coordinated by the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine on behalf of the Department of Health and Ageing.

Ms Ling is in her second year of medicine at the University of Tasmania in Hobart which is Australia's Antarctic gateway.

 “I always knew I wanted a job where I could combine my love of the outdoors, with travel and caring for people and medicine seems to fit the bill,” Jessie Ling said.

When Ms Ling realised she could apply for a placement with the Australian Antarctic Division through the JFPP she jumped at the chance.

“My father worked in Antarctica in 1991 as a Field Training Officer at Australia’s Casey station, so I guess that family connection ignited a passion in me to go south as well,” she said.

“During my placement so far, I have been based at the Polar Medicine Unit at the Division’s headquarters in Kingston, learning about the support doctors on the ice receive. But I’m hoping to travel south in my final year of the program.

“It would be amazing to actually get there and see the beautiful Antarctic landscape, it’s just such a different, remote and stunning part of the world.”

The next round of applications for the JFPP close on March 16.

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