Conference founder Mark Hannaford on why #WEM19 is so important and how it can help further your medical career
This is the 8th year we have held an annual World Extreme Medicine Conference and interest in this area of medicine is growing all the time. Now, more than ever before, medical professionals are being asked to deliver high quality medicine in the world’s most remote areas; supporting expeditions, adventure holidays, responding to sudden onset disasters or being deployed on humanitarian missions.
Over the 3-day conference held in Edinburgh, we will cover everything from pre-hospital, to expedition and military medicine, as well as humanitarian healthcare in crisis situations. This year, the conference is being opened by Dr Serena Auñón-Chancellor, NASA Flight Surgeon recently returned from her second space expedition on the International Space Station.
Looking after health in space has a unique dimension because of the physiological impact of zero gravity on the body. One of the big questions about whether we can safely send explorers to Mars is whether long periods in space will cause irreversible damage to eyesight. There’s also more to learn about the psychological effects of long periods of isolation in sealed environments. Space medicine teaches lots of valuable lessons that can be used in other extreme situations and has practical medical uses on earth too. NASA is a world leader at training medics to work in remote areas with few available resources.
Doctors and medics who decide to work in extreme medicine will have a rewarding and dynamic career that offers plenty of diversity and challenges along the way, but it can be incredibly tough at times and individuals need to ensure they are suited to the job. You need to be able to cope with long deployments far away from home and work in situations that may expose you to things that shock you or even threaten your safety.
The aftermath of a deployment, particularly in a crisis zone, can also be difficult to navigate. It is quite common to get post-expedition blues, and medics can suffer from PTSD just like combat soldiers.
For disaster medicine, you need huge adaptability and ability to respond quickly. One of the benefits of the conference is that organisations such as Medicins San Frontieres and the International Red Cross come and explain what it is they do, with feedback from medics who have already volunteered. This will cement some people’s determination to sign up, but others can see that it isn’t for them.
The military has driven many of the advances in trauma medicine which are saving lives in NHS hospitals and at road traffic accidents in the UK right now. Defence Medical Services are one of our partners and they will be on hand to talk about opportunities within the service for medics who wish to follow a military pathway.
Raleigh International is another partner organisation that needs the services of well-trained medics. They take young people on expeditions to build their confidence and increase their opportunities and they have a very well established medical system.
You don’t need to be a trauma consultant or a medical doctor to get involved. There is a great need for healthcare workers who have the skills to give ongoing treatment to people who may be swept up in a crisis situation. People in the Bahamas may be coping with the aftermath of a devastating storm, but they still need physiotherapy, maternity nurses, psychological assistance and paramedics to attend emergencies.
If you have a calling, there’s a place for you!