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Expedition medicine

Expedition Medicine - the Art of Balance

Expedition Medicine – The Art of Balance
My most recent expedition was as a doctor for a group of twenty young and inspiring people climbing Mt Kilimanjaro on behalf of SCOPE, a cerebral palsy charity. For many of the people in the group this climb was the culmination of a year of fund raising and hard fitness training. At dawn, just before climbing the difficult Barranco Wall, the group paused to listen to a poem on how life takes a different path when a mother is told her child has cerebral palsy. Standing in a circle above the clouds, this more than anything, reminded me that I was privileged to be able to assist a group of amazing individuals achieve their goal.  

I did not start my medical career with the view of becoming an expedition doctor. On the other hand, the interest was always there and living in Australia gave me options to get out of the urban setting. While at university I trained and subsequently worked in rural communities, qualifying as a rural/remote general practitioner. I found the lifestyle invigorating, being surrounded by amazing scenery, visiting isolated indigenous communities and interacting with unique down-to-earth characters. I have had some of the best moments of my life working in these areas and the skills gained in managing all possible presentations have contributed to a certain level of comfort when dealing with issues in the field and on expeditions.

The flexibility of training in this field has also allowed me to travel and work in a variety of settings including remote communities in the Cape region of Queensland for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and as a civilian doctor working for the military on overseas deployment with Australian and New Zealand troops in East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

I see the challenge of expedition medicine as a continuation of remote medicine – where your skills can be put to the test with limited equipment and backup on hand. That said, expedition medicine attracts doctors from many different fields but some of the interests often shared are an enthusiasm to travel to areas sometimes difficult to visit, build friendships outside of the insular medical world, to meet inspirational people, and perhaps have a reality check that life is more than a career.

I also meet many doctors who would love to go on expeditions but cannot take the time away from competitive training programs and exam preparations or delay progress to consultancy. These are valid reasons that determine the course of many doctors’ careers for years, often followed by the realities of a mortgage, family and networking. Therefore, fitting in expeditions can be complicated with an impact on colleagues and loved ones who may not appreciate your detour. It is not for everyone.

I have managed to juggle expeditions with rural medicine by making the former the focus for the next few years. Expedition work rarely pays in terms of salary so in between trips I complete locum contracts in rural Australia, instruct on trauma courses, or update knowledge by working in an emergency department. Expedition medicine has not hindered my career and I feel that prospective employers have appreciated the myriad skill base and roundedness that expedition medicine develops.  

For those contemplating expedition medicine the road to achieving this goal may seem fraught with difficulties; however, once achieved, the gains are immeasurable.

Dr Hazel Dobinson


 
 

 

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