Antarctic-bound doctors left out in the cold

Mock patient
A mock patient is treated during an exercise in the Expedition Medicine Winter Course hosted by AAD/UTAS. (Photo: Heath Holden)
Stretcher rescuecamping at Arm RiverPreparation

31st July 2017

Antarctic-bound doctors have spent a wet and wild week in the Tasmanian wilderness, honing their cold climate and remote medicine skills.

During the eight day Expedition Medicine Winter Course, run by the University of Tasmania and Australian Antarctic Division, participants were challenged to abseil down cliffs and undertake search and rescue scenarios in dark, wet and freezing conditions.

Dr Kate Kloza, who is heading to Davis research station for the 2017–18 season, said the course had challenged her to step outside her comfort zone.

“What I really enjoyed was getting that big picture on all aspects of the planning and conduct of a wilderness medicine retrieval,” she said.

“It’s not the same as a hospital or general practice setting, where the patient comes to me. Instead we have to work to make the patient safe for transportation, which means stabilising them in the field, where you don’t always have the optimal equipment available.”

“There’s also been plenty of opportunities to rope up and do different things that definitely fall outside the remit of regular general practitioner.”

As well as rope skills and search and rescue techniques, participants practiced cold injury management, wound repair, the use of splints and stretchers, steep terrain rescue and evacuation, remote area communication, and navigation skills.

Australian Antarctic Division medical practitioner and course instructor, Dr Clive Strauss, said the Division is recognised as a leader in the areas of cold climate, remote and extreme medicine.

“Over many decades the Division has developed and refined how we deliver medical care in extreme and isolated environments to ensure we can respond to scenarios and deliver high quality health care in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean,” Dr Strauss said.

Each of Australia’s three Antarctic stations, and sub-Antarctic station on Macquarie Island, has a medical practitioner who is responsible for the care and well-being of all expeditioners with the support of the Division’s 24/7 telemedicine systems, connecting them to experts based in Hobart.

The expedition medicine course also covers pre-expedition planning and appropriate contents for an expedition medical kit.

The Antarctic-bound doctors were joined by other medical professionals and wilderness instructors on the course, which is open to the public and is also offered as part of the University of Tasmania’s Master of Public Health (Remote and Polar Health) course.

[Video]

Expedition Medicine Winter Course

Video transcript

PAUL: We've tried to design this course to be a real mix of technical skills and extended medical scenarios.

KATE: We are the search and rescue team and often have to provide that field first aid if someone in the team does become injured or unwell while out in the field.

PAUL: We've got a mix of outdoor professionals and the other half are a mix of doctors and we bring them together in a way that the outdoor professionals can use their technical skills to access difficult spots like crossing rivers or abseiling into caves for example and then they can help the doctors get in and do some more advanced medicine in more remote spots than they would normally be able to.

KATE: Practicing packaging up patients focus on keeping them warm, the safe transport of patients but what I really enjoyed learning about is getting that overall big picture on all of the different aspects that go into both the planning and then the actual events around a wilderness medicine retrieval. It's not quite the same as the hospital setting or the GP setting where the patient comes to me all nice and ready instead we've actually got to work and and make the patient able to be safely transported, stabilised in the field where you don't always have your optimal and medical equipment around. 

[end transcript]