At each station, four lucky wintering expeditioners are trained as ‘Lay Surgical Assistants’ to help the lone wintering doctor. Be it a true medical emergency or a toothache, it pays to have a few extra sets of hands.
Prior to departure Garvan, Amy, Rhys and Aaron were drilled by the experienced nursing staff at Royal Hobart Hospital. In what was by all accounts a highly surreal two weeks, they left their lives as carpenters, plumbers and engineers, and entered the ‘OT’. It’s a privileged experience, in a world of lacerations and tendons, beating hearts, Caesarean sections and breathing tubes passing through vocal cords.
The LSAs, having demonstrated they have a firm stomach and understand how to keep things sterile, continue training on station. Marissa (wintering doctor) and Rob (summering doctor) help the enthusiastic four through a warren of medical jargon and beeping equipment. For the station doctor, it’s a satisfying opportunity to build a team, do some teaching and foster obsessive handwashing habits.
Coming down South as the doctor is incredible. The station often reminds you that they want you as bored as possible, but there is plenty to do. After months of training in Kingston we adopt many new roles to provide healthcare. You are not just the doctor, but also the onsite medical stores manager, physiotherapist, vigilant public health advocate, cleaner, counsellor, radiographer, dentist, medical equipment trouble-shooter and calibrator, ship’s doctor and aeromedical officer. All supported by advanced telecommunication links back to Kingston. You help Australia continue as a pioneer in remote medicine, and leave with a great appreciation of how much effort it takes on many levels to provide a health service.
Before coming South, people are most keen to hear about the state of your appendix (do you still have it? are they going to take it? have you heard about that Russian doctor?). Rest assured that everyone is allowed to take their appendix to Antarctica — everyone except the wintering doctor (you should look up that Russian doctor).
The Australian Antarctic Program operates by the wise adage that ‘prevention is better than cure’. If medical care is required however, the doctor with their capable LSA team is well set up to respond.
What an opportunity!Rob and Marissa