What it’s like to be the doctor on Macquarie Island

Being Macca’s doctor

The Macquarie Island medical facility is a solo doctor outpost providing medical care and public health services for all who call the Green Sponge home. Located in the mess building, the eastern wing is dedicated to medicine. There’s an all-in-one consulting, patient care and assessment, lab, and pharmacy space with a connected dental room. Next down the line is a two-bed patient ward and bathroom, and a store room. Marking the end of the building is the operating theatre and surgical storeroom. In a beautiful piece of architectural irony, the absolute best view from the medical facility is the surgical storeroom window that overlooks Garden Cove!

All up I spend about 80% of my working day doing medical stores work, maintenance of all the medical equipment, and in patient care. All of the wintering expeditioners have a monthly medical. This is a general check to monitor their general health and a chance to talk about any issues that might have arisen in the month. The rest of my work time I’m walking around station and the field looking after first aid kits, AEDs (automated external defibrillator), medical gases, performing potable water testing, and of course talking to people. It’s the one job on station where you don’t want to be too busy as it means someone is sick or injured. I’m available 24/7 for medical consults, so it’s quite similar to usual work back in Australia as a rural generalist. It feels like being back home too. The layout is akin to a small country hospital, though the views out the window are very different.

Although the station doctor is the only medical officer on the island, the work is well supported. The Polar Medicine Unit at head office has three doctors on call that provide telemedicine support and advice. To assist me locally, four wintering expeditioners volunteer their time to be LSAs (lay surgical assistants). During pre-departure training they undergo two weeks of training at the Royal Hobart Hospital where they learn to assist in surgery, anaesthetics, and patient care. Once on the island, we have regular training sessions to ensure our team is always ready for a medical event. It’s a big commitment from the LSAs, one that is greatly appreciated. They may be called upon at short notice to assist me, and to assist in providing ongoing supervised care for the duration of a fellow expeditioner’s illness or injury.

Last Friday we had our final training session for the year. The Aurora Australis is due to arrive in March for our major resupply (and to take us home!). To prepare, just in case a medical event occurs during this time, we had a simulated exercise where Ivor, our Station Leader, fell and broke his leg while working in the green store. The LSA’s and I did a patient assessment, provided analgesia, loaded him onto the spinal board and transported him to the medical facility for ongoing care. After a year of working together, the team performed fantastically. Ivor has since made a suspiciously good recovery post and was last seen heading up Doctor’s Hill for a daily walk!

Kate Kloza, Macquarie Island Doctor