Medic at the helm

I’ve always been a keen sailor and I regret the fact that I’ve never had time to sail around the world. After I qualified as a doctor, I worked in anaesthetics and intensive care, before deciding to become a GP. I volunteered for the RNLI crew at Brixham, a five minute drive away from where I lived, and that gave me the opportunity to indulge my love of the sea in quite an intense environment where my I was part of the crew first and a medic second.

The RNLI does welcome medics but you have to be prepared to muck in. I trained on the job and became a helmsman and I was on hand with my medical training when necessary.

It was an amazing time and there were some close calls. One of the closest was the time when we were called out to rescue crew from a stricken freighter in the English Channel. The engine room of the freighter was on fire and the helicopter was running out of fuel and needed to return to land. I remember the waves were huge, with a 3-4 metre swell, and the ship was listing at a 45 degree angle. We had to run the lifeboat onto the deck over 50 times, between waves, to rescue nine people. Our crew won the Pride of Britain award 2009 for that rescue.

Team work is very important in any extreme situation and the crew on a lifeboat come from all walks of life and cross the generations. But we were all so well trained, that any of the 30 people in the crew could work together in combination and make a success of it.

Now that I am no longer working on the lifeboat, I have volunteered for BASICS as a emergency responder. In my spare time, I work for the South West Ambulance Service Trust and I have a blue light which I can stick on the top of my car to nip through traffic to get to the scene of a medical emergency. It is not quite as risky as going out to see in a gale, but it does give me an adrenaline buzz.

I do enjoy working in extreme environments as a medic and I now teach a Masters degree in extreme medicine at the University of Exeter to help other medics move into this challenging but exciting area. As medical director of World Extreme Medicine, I am responsible for the academic side of things and to ensure that the course has credibility. This is the very first year of the course and the first intake of post-graduates started in September 2016. In the first year, they will achieve a post graduate certificate of education in expedition and extreme medicine. Second year students have to do a compulsory module in disaster and humanitarian medicine with an option to do a module in jungle, polar or mountain expedition medicine. Those who complete all three years, doing a dissertation or major project, will gain a Masters.

 

Dr Alex Rowe

Dr Alex Rowe is the medical director of World Extreme Medicine. He volunteered as a medical officer and helmsman with the RNLI for nearly a decade before moving inland last year. He also delivers the UK’s first Masters qualification in extreme medicine at Exeter University.

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