Expedition medicine and field skills for diverse environments
Authors: Alice Mavrogordato
Publication date: 02 Feb 2008
Who’s it for?
Any health professional with an interest in expedition medicine and who is considering accompanying an expedition. Candidates consisted mainly of doctors and acute care nurses, some with previous experience of remote medicine. Knowledge of advanced trauma life support is assumed.
When did you do it?
While I was a surgical senior house officer, after completing membership of the Royal College of Surgeons.
Why did you do it?
I wanted to learn more about expedition medicine, to meet people with first hand experience of expeditions, and to prepare myself for being an expedition medical officer.
How much effort did it entail?
There was no pre-course reading; lectures were comprehensive and reinforced by a good course booklet. Reasonable physical fitness is required and necessary for the basic overnight camp conditions. However, it was generally enjoyable.
Is there an exam?
There is no formal assessment. Knowledge and skills are continually acquired and practised throughout the course. A few candidates realised that they were not suited to the associated living conditions—an important discovery before being responsible for a group.
Did you go on a course?
The course is held in the summer in Chamonix and the French Alps. It is taught in English by a UK based company. A similar course is held in the winter.
The first one and a half days consist of excellent lectures and small group discussions including a background to expedition medicine, the medical officer’s role, how to find an expedition, specific medical conditions, and considerations relevant to desert, jungle, water environments, and mountainous and cold terrains.
The next two and a half days are held in the mountains with one overnight camp. Practical sessions include familiarisation with specifically designed expedition kit and improvisation techniques, personal survival skills, navigation and radio use, considerations and practice creating a campsite, techniques of safe river crossings, snow travel and ice axe use, rescue techniques, and medical evacuations.
Simulated medical evacuation scenarios include extraction of casualties from vehicles, a precarious riverside accident scene, and an awkward mountain evacuation.
How much did it cost?
£475 for doctors. There is a reduced fee of £350 for other medical personnel to encourage people who may be interested in expedition roles (there is no difference in course content or package).
Bring items on the comprehensive list of personal equipment/clothing required. Borrow kit if necessary to cut costs. If you do forget something there are plenty of outdoor shops in Chamonix. It is easy to fly to Geneva and transfer by bus. Make sure your flight arrives before the last bus, as buses run less frequently in the summer.
The course organisers make accommodation recommendations. Sharing chalets is possible or there is a cheap and friendly youth hostel, the bar being a focal meeting point each evening. Spend an extra day in Chamonix to walk in the Alps or mountain bike.
Was it worth it?
Definitely. This was one of the best courses I have been on. The faculty had huge personal experience and a mix of medical and non-medical expertise. They were very enthusiastic to ensure that people on the course would acquire the skills to practise safe expedition medicine. I would strongly suggest you go on a course like this if you are considering accompanying a group in a remote area. During my two months as an expedition medic in remote parts of Ethiopia and trekking in China I used much of the knowledge and many of the tips and skills learnt on this course.
Wilderness Medical Training, The Coach House, Thorny Bank, Garth Row, Kendal, Cumbria LA8 9AW. Tel/fax : +44(0)1539823183. [Link]
Alice Mavrogordato anaesthetic FTSTA1