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"Going South" to Antarctica

9 Jul 2015

Dr Lloyd Fletcher, who spent 12 months in Antarctica as the Dr on Australia’s Davis Station, says he would recommend the experience of “going south” to anyone.

Aus­tralia has four Antarc­tic Sta­tions, and each Sta­tion has approx­i­mate­ly 20 win­ter expe­di­tion­ers and up to 80 sum­mer expeditioners.

There is one Doc­tor pro­vid­ed for each Sta­tion and it is his/​her role to pro­vide ongo­ing and emer­gency med­ical care for these expe­di­tion­ers. Although there is no oth­er med­ical staff pro­vid­ed, three or four fel­low expe­di­tion­ers vol­un­teer to under­go two weeks sur­gi­cal and anaes­thet­ic train­ing at Roy­al Hobart Hos­pi­tal pri­or to their depar­ture so they can be assis­tants to help the Doc­tor in times of med­ical emergency.

The Doc­tor receives train­ing in var­i­ous dis­ci­plines, to pre­pare for a range of ser­vices that may be required to be car­ried out on the Antarc­tic Sta­tion as part of the job –includ­ing surgery, anaes­thet­ics, den­tistry, pathol­o­gy, radi­ol­o­gy, emer­gency field work and pub­lic health. These cours­es are var­ied and cov­er a wide range, but are all very inter­est­ing and enjoyable.

On top of this, there are train­ing cours­es for all Sta­tion per­son­nel in out­door sur­vival, field trav­el, nav­i­ga­tion and snow-vehi­cle dri­ving. The entire train­ing peri­od is filled with excit­ing new challenges.

My year at Davis was med­ical­ly rather qui­et, a dis­lo­cat­ed shoul­der being the most excit­ing chal­lenge that I met. How­ev­er, as the dis­lo­ca­tion had occurred fol­low­ing a slip on ice many kilo­me­tres away from the Sta­tion, by the time the patient pre­sent­ed at my surgery, he required a gen­er­al anaes­thet­ic to reduce the dis­lo­ca­tion. This gave our lay-med­ical team some first-hand gen­uine med­ical experience.

In past years, some of the Antarc­tic Doc­tors have found them­selves being tasked with per­form­ing laparo­tomies for appen­dici­tis, peri­toni­tis, retroperi­toneal haem­or­rhage, a cran­ioto­my for extradur­al bleed­ing and treat­ment of mul­ti­trau­ma after falls off ice cliffs.

One Russ­ian Doc­tor even had to per­form his own appen­dicec­to­my under local anaes­the­sia. It is a require­ment of the job for Aus­tralian Doc­tors nowa­days that they have their appen­dix removed elec­tive­ly pri­or to going south”.

All in all, a year spent in Antarc­ti­ca is a chal­leng­ing, though utter­ly enjoy­able expe­ri­ence, one which I would rec­om­mend to any colleague.

Dr Lloyd Fletcher

My name is Lloyd Fletch­er. I am a Med­ical Prac­ti­tion­er. I grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of West­ern Aus­tralia in 1972 and, after under­tak­ing sev­er­al Res­i­den­cies in appro­pri­ate dis­ci­plines (Med­i­cine, Surgery, Psy­chi­a­try, Eyes, ENT, Anaes­thet­ics, Obstet­rics, Pae­di­atrics), I have spent my entire med­ical career prac­tic­ing Med­i­cine in Remote Areas.

I have always enjoyed work­ing in remote areas as this has allowed me to be my own boss, to make my own deci­sions most of the time, and to prac­tice Med­i­cine with the patient’s best inter­est at heart. The prac­tice of remote med­i­cine has also pre­sent­ed the ongo­ing chal­lenge of meet­ing unex­pect­ed tasks, which might range from minor through to crit­i­cal­ly major. Also, remote-area med­ical prac­tice has afford­ed me the priv­i­lege of prac­tic­ing a wide range of med­ical skills. Some of my med­ical work has includ­ed jobs in Nhu­lun­buy, Cocos (Keel­ing) Islands, the RFDS, Sau­di Ara­bia, Nor­folk Island, Antarc­ti­ca, and assort­ed locums through­out the States of WA and Tasmania.

I recent­ly took part in the CRANAplus, 2½ day, Advanced Remote Emer­gency Care Course in Ger­ald­ton, WA. And what an excel­lent course it was. The Course allowed me to accu­mu­late most of my PDPs (Pro­fes­sion­al Devel­op­ment Points) as required by ACR­RM, the Med­ical Col­lege to which I belong. Also, it pro­vid­ed me with a refresh­ing look at the sys­temic approach to assess­ing a patient in an emer­gency sit­u­a­tion. Wendy Bowyer, the Course Coor­di­na­tor, asked me to write a brief pro­file of my career for the CRANAplus magazine.

The high­light of my med­ical life has been the prac­tice of Med­i­cine in Antarc­ti­ca. This is a region of tru­ly remote med­ical prac­tice. No medi­vacs are avail­able at all from Antarc­ti­ca for 9 months of the year, and thus an iso­lat­ed Antarc­tic Doc­tor is expect­ed to fill all med­ical roles whilst there,to be the Anaes­thetist, Sur­geon, Pathol­o­gist, Radi­ol­o­gist, Lab Tech­ni­cian and Nurse for his patients when­ev­er required. It is an excep­tion­al­ly enjoy­able chal­lenge, and the rewards of the job are the phe­nom­e­nal beau­ty, the mag­nif­i­cent wildlife, and the awe­some majesty of the frozen lands and seas which make up that continent.