A day in the life of a medic on an Antarctic base

Article by Julia Strelou24 May 2022
doctor in Antarctica

Dr David Silley always had a dream to go to Antarctica, and on his journey through medical school, he came across a few people who had worked there. This inspired him to get there himself.

"I decided this was something I wanted to do and I spent my time developing my career with the mindset of doing it."

David pursued a job with the British Antarctic Survey, and they kindly gave him the position of his dreams.

"I headed to Plymouth to start my training, and then in October 2020, headed down south. I was working on a small base on an island called South Georgia."

David described his first impression of the region as “magical and completely breathtaking."

“You take the top of the Alps, you drop it into the middle of the ocean, and then you fill it with the most ridiculous wildlife you’ve ever seen.”

He describes it as something almost surreal, “seeing mountains and glaciers jut out of the water, and then seeing penguins and whales surrounding it all.”

Life on the base, is your normal 9-5 day shifts. Everyone has their own particular role and is their own specialist for a reason.

He describes each day as “You are trying to mostly keep the base running and ticking over.”

As a doctor, David was seeing people coming in who had mostly minor ailments, "Mostly GP kind of stuff."

For David, the most challenging (but also the most rewarding) thing was all to do with the people and being a doctor there, but also being a team member and a friend to everybody.

"It has its challenges especially when medical things come up and you start having to think about sending people home."

What David remembers most from his trip is the time that he broke his own ankle, and at that moment became the patient, as well as the doctor, as well as teaching the team how to deal with that situation.

"It was all epitomised by a photo at the end of the whole experience where I had an electrician and a mechanic dressed up in scrubs covered in plaster from having to re-manipulate my ankle into the right position and they're out on the verandah amongst the mountains with penguins in the background having a fag."

One of the biggest things that David has taken away and hopes to bring back with him is an awareness of the effects of climate change. "With scientists out there doing the work that they’re doing, it's hard to ignore the whole climate crisis situation."

David's time in Antarctica gave him some time to reflect on the health care professionals, how the profession is contributing to global warming, and what could be done differently.

"I am hoping to become a bit more of an advocate for climate change and the things that we can do in health care."

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Julia Strelou
Article by Julia StrelouMedrecruit Editor
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