Antarctic division struggles to find new doctors
- Audio: Dire doctor shortage threatens Antarctic research (AM)
- Audio: Full interview with Dr Jeff Ayton on Antarctic doctor shortage (AM)
The Australian Antarctic Division cannot find two doctors to fill critical positions at its Antarctic stations and with time running out, its research program is under threat.
When you are 5,500 kilometres from home and stationed in the world’s most isolated area, good medical help is an absolute necessity.
Dr Jeff Ayton, chief medical officer with Australia’s Antarctic Division, says it is urgently looking for two doctors to spend nine months in Antarctica at Casey or Davis station.
“We have a critical … departure time of February in 2008,” he said. “Each year we have … a requirement for four doctors.
“But this year we’re in the market for two doctors to spend the period at Casey and Davis stations.”
He says he thinks the general skills shortage for doctors in Australia is one of the reasons it has been hard to find new doctors for the posting.
“Especially with procedural skills and generalist skills and to spend nine months away from home is a challenging period,” he said.
“But it’s also very rewarding to spend an opportunity of a lifetime, summer and winter in Antarctica, and most doctors who do that say it’s an unforgettable experience.”
He says the Antarctic Division does have some unique requirements.
“That’s having some procedural skills, and in the worst case scenario the ability to undertake an appendectomy on the ice,” he said.
“We are in a similar market to the more remote medical outposts.”
Adelaide-based anaesthetist Dr Jo Melick is now winding up her stint at Mawson station after one year on the ice.
She says it was an opportunity she would not have missed for the world.
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and I just think it’s a fantastic opportunity,” she said.
“I suppose it is very isolating … Probably the people who are in the middle of their careers and they may just have families and they may not be prepared to leave them for that period of time and that’s certainly something you can understand.”
She agrees the job needs doctors who can be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.
“To some degree, yes you do. There’s certainly a requirement that you’re able to do surgery down here, that you’re confident that you can do some,” she said.
“I’m obviously not a surgeon, but I have had some surgical training.
“You also need to be able to do some anaesthetics … But you certainly do, because there are no facilities.
“If you have someone in and you suspect that they’ve got an infection, then it’s up to you to try and find out what the bug is and do all of the sort of basic things that normally you would just send it off to a laboratory to do.
“But it is a place where we’re obviously very isolated. We had our last ship here in left in March.
“The next ship is due next week. In those, in between times you don’t have any access to resources back in Australia.
“So if you do have a problem it is quite daunting to be down here by yourself trying to deal with it.”