On Sunday 15th April, the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) opened its prestigious doors to Expedition  & Wilderness Medicine’s inaugural World Extreme Medicine Conference 2012. With nearly 200 qualified doctors, nurses and paramedics attending over four days the wealth of knowledge and experience was exceptional.

For the medical students (making up a 1/5th of all delegates) attending the conference it was an ideal opportunity to learn from world class speakers, network with delegates ranging from Foundation Year 1 doctors looking for their first expedition opportunity to seasoned Consultants with 25 years of expedition experience, and of course, to take part in the student poster presentation.

Of course for any conference to run smoothly you need good student helpers! After having over 50 offers from medical students willing to volunteer their time to help at the World Extreme Medicine conference, we decided that a random ballot would be the fairest way to find the 5 helpers we needed. So, joining the Expedition & Wilderness Medicine team for the 4 days were Samira Green (Barts and the London, RSM student president-elect who had been pre-selected to lead the student conference team), Charlotte Loumann-Krogh (Denmark University), Charl Jackson (UCL), Tom Geliot (Leicester University), and Dave Bentley (Brighten and Middlesex University). The student team were instrumental in the day to day smooth running of the conference and we really enjoyed having them join us for the 4 days! I think the cocktail evening with the speakers was the highlight for them!

The student poster presentation section of the International World Extreme Medicine Conference was designed as a way for students to get involved with the conference (especially if attendance was cost prohibitive). Having had the poster session set up behind the stunning glass Atrium of the RSM we welcomed a total of 21 students (or student teams) from Universities around the country – and abroad. They all presented outstanding poster presentations. Poster topics ranged from acute mountain sickness on Mount Kilimanjaro, to traumatic leg injury following a plane crash. There could only be one winning poster-entry however. Dr Amy Hughes, Dr Sean Hudson and Dr Roger Alcock (with a wealth of pre-hospital, emergency and expedition medicine between them) spoke with the poster presenters individually before announcing their decision at the start of the afternoon lecture session on Sunday 15th. It was clear that the decision was not easy – as they took a very long time deliberating!

Ultimately however, Magdalena Tarchala and Margaret Pietrowski’s poster entry entitled “Acute Appendicitis in Remote Antarctic Environment” was agreed unanimously by the judges as the winner based on its novel and original research. The abstract to the poster reads:

“Acute appendicitis is a medical emergency. Traditional first line treatment is appendectomy; inoperable situations require alternative treatment. A 30 year-old male researcher at an Antarctic camp experienced lower right quadrant pain. Appendicitis was suspected. Weather conditions made transport impossible. Conservative antibiotic therapy was initiated.Patient developed localized peritonitis and rebound tenderness. Surgery was necessary. In uncomplicated cases, conservative antibiotic treatment is used.Appendicitis incidence rate in Polar Regions are high due to stress and cold climate resulting in immunosuppression.In these environments, first line medical treatment advocates conservative therapy, and postpones surgery until deemed a life saving measure.”

Magdalena and Margaret receiving their books by Dr Sean Hudson and Dr Roger Alcock
Magdalena and Margaret receiving their books by Dr Sean Hudson and Dr Roger Alcock

Magdalena and Margaret, both students at the International Jagiellonian University Medical College, Poland (and both co-founders of Medical Students Without Borders) were awarded £150 gift voucher to Montane® to share, and an Expedition and Wilderness Medicine Handbook, t-shirt and winners certificate each. All participants of the student poster presentation also received an Expedition and Wilderness Medicine Handbook and certificate of participation at the conference.

The feedback from the delegates attending the conference was one of being very impressed with the standard of student poster presentations, professionalism and enthusiasm. Even during the coffee and lunch breaks the students were kept busy with probing questions from delegates! This is no bad thing – after all, like all delegates attending the conference, we hoped that the students, either just participating in the poster presentation or attending the lecture series, had the opportunity to be inspired and to network. You never know when ‘that expedition opportunity’ may just land in your lap.

Expedition, pre-hospital and humanitarian medicine is a surprisingly small world and to have so many inspirational and learned people under one roof could not fail to inspire those near the end of their medicine careers or, perhaps more importantly those medical students just starting out…

There are clear ways to make the student involvement at the next International World Extreme Medicine Conference bigger and better and I am already working on these – so watch this space! Furthermore, what was encouraging to hear from the students attending was that there are opportunities to get university funding to attend conferences like this – and indeed many students were there by those means. It is by no means a perfect system and not universal to all universities but do explore these options.

Finally, I would like to end by saying a huge resounding thank you to all the medical students that came to the World Extreme Medicine Conference – from those just dipping their toe into the expedition medicine world for the first time, to the huge and impressive party of 10 international students from Poland, to the seasoned students with more experience than the doctors! I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you all, hearing your thoughts and suggestions, and for me – knowing there are people out there with similar dreams and aspirations to my own.

I very much look forward to meeting you all again whether that be at the next conference, course hospital, or in the field….

With best wishes,

Nick

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Dr Nick Knight

University Liaison for Expedition & Wilderness Medicine

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