A chat with the Davis doctor

So, what’s your story Frank?

I am an Antarctic Medical Practitioner (AMP) working for the Polar Medicine Unit (PMU) that coordinates personnel, facilities, supplies and training in the four high-standard medical facilities at Australian Antarctic and sub Antarctic stations.  This is my first time working in Antarctica, assigned to Davis Station for the summer season (Nov-Feb). 

On a more personal level I am very lucky to be the dad to 4 of my own children and 3 step-children, all of whom have been wonderfully supportive of my adventure down south, and in December I even became a poppy to a little girl named Olive, whom I look forward to meeting very soon.

Not your average medical practice…

Davis Station is vastly different (!) from my most recent practice as a specialist Gynaecological surgeon and Obstetrician in Launceston (Tasmania) and more like some of my previous jobs in remote areas of Australia like the Kimberley and Pilbara, and Emergency departments in various states of Australia and the UK.

Yet at the same time it is all very similar, as the problems people present with are not so different from rural and remote general practice in many areas of Australia. The most challenging, and at the same time most rewarding aspect of the job as an AMP is that it’s just you.

There is amazing telemedicine support 24/7 (video link) from PMU, yet here you are…still often alone and with significant responsibilities… see the patient, take blood, do the pathology, take the Xray or do the ultrasound, prescribe and dispense the medication and in the event of a surgical problem, give the anaesthetic and do the operation yourself and then provide the post-operative nursing care. In 2019, there is nowhere else in Australia, and possibly the world where this is the case.  

I have been very fortunate to have Meg McK, the Davis winter doctor here since Christmas…as you can imagine, having another colleague on station is a huge advantage.

What is your role here at Davis Station, Frank?

Part-time slushy (kitchen helper), Dingle Road mountain biker, wannabe musician, tester of potable water and effluent (poo), aspiring amateur snow and ice adventurer, and occasionally I get to play doctor and sort out the odd medical issue.

What drew you to work in Antarctica? 

Have wanted to come to Antarctica as a doctor since finishing my intern year in 1988. Marriage, kids, mortgages and work got in the way. Suddenly realised as the kids grew up that I could do it! So I applied. Best decision ever.

What are your three favourite things about working in Antarctica so far?

The people are amazing.  Such a varied, dynamic, interesting, positive, caring and likeable group. Everyone has some interesting, often unbelievable-yet-true and inspiring facet to their lives that randomly surface in conversation, even as the summer draws to a close. I have never encountered such a group before.

Our four Lay Surgical Assistants (LSAs) who assist in the medical centre when needed are stand-outs. I have been privileged to work with these guys…a plumber, a electrician, a boilermaker/fitter and a diesel mechanic, who with 2 weeks of intensive training are now able to competently set up and check an anaesthetic machine, prepare surgical instrument trays and scrub up to assist with an operation. It has made me totally rethink medical training and ask why we take so long to train doctors and nurses — there has to be a more efficient way.

Search & Rescue training…stepping into the shoes of a wilderness paramedic was the bee’s knees — not only for the personal experience but to get a true hands-on understanding of the complexities involved around rescue operations in the field — invaluable!  Oh, and the helicopter rides to get to places in the Vestfold Hills is a bit of a favourite for everyone too, I think it’s safe to say.

Single best memory so far?

The whole Antarctic gig has been awesome…so hard to choose.

Playing the guitar with 3 other expeditioners as a musical group for a Davis Station Australia Day celebration last weekend. So much fun and something I haven't done since my early 20’s.

Most exciting experience?

While sitting on Mick’s knee to get my present from Santa was indeed noteworthy, my #1 pick is definitely experiencing the snow slope behind Platcha Hut after an awesome heli ride out there on a magic Antarctic summer day, then walking back to Brookes Hut via Stalker Hill with 3 new friends.

The most difficult aspect of your job?

Worrying about how I would cope if the proverbial really hit the fan in a big way.

If you were Station Leader for a day what would you encourage?

That Station Leaders didn’t go out and steal Strava KOM’s without giving the previous owner of the KOM at least 24 hours of glory (Simon take note).

Please describe yourself in three words.

Short, bald, white beard.