I'm an SHO, but I don't have your typical ward based job. In the last four years I have treated in jungles, underwater (in scuba gear), 5m from a gorilla, up a volcano, on a beach, at altitude, on safari, in a bog and on a boat. Expedition medicine is a great way to travel the world, take time out whist expanding your CV, and be physically and mentally challenged and develop your skill and knowledge base.
As a doctor, you can undertake expeditions during your 'spare time' but it is more common for doctors to go on expeditions between F2 and specialty training. This is the ideal time either because you have been working for the last 7 years and either you need a break, the NHS has broken you, or you don't know what you want to do with your career and need time to think. At this point I would recommend using your F2 course/study budget on an Expedition Medicine course. They are expensive, but the knowledge and skill base you gain makes you more prepared and competitive for expedition jobs.
There are many types of Expedition Medicine jobs ranging from endurance sports races to scientific expeditions. Although the jobs differ, there are many ailments common to all. You should expect to treat diarrhoea and vomiting, insect bites, blisters, cuts, injuries, and GP complaints such headaches and exacerbations of chronic illnesses. More serious injuries and illnesses can occur so it is good to be prepared as possible. To help, ensure your medical kit is labelled and organised e.g. labelled cannulation kit, emergency kit is always accessible and you are familiar with the casevac plan.
Your role as an Expedition Medic involves more that the treatment of clients. A typical job also includes client selection and education, risk assessment, updating casevac plans, stock-checking kit, health promotion, project management and writing debriefs.
What's Right For You?
If you're keen to do Expedition Medicine, first think about where you want to go and then for how long. Think hard about these choices. A 6 month expedition through the jungle sounds exciting, but if you don't like spiders, creepy-crawlies and leaches, and the furthest you have travelled is an all-inclusive to Mallorca, then it might be best to start with a 4 week expedition in France. When you have an idea of what you want to do there are many organisations that you can apply to, including:
Across the Divide
Doctors Without Borders
Royal Geographical Society
Each organisation will have different aims, clients, resources and responsibilities so pick one that suits you.
Have fun and feel free to post any question below.
When you think of the term 'bacteria', it immediately conjures up an image of a faceless, ruthless enemy-one that requires your poor body to maintain constant vigilance, fighting the good fight forever and always. And should you happen to lose the battle, well, the after effects are always messy. But what some people might not know is that bacteria are our silent saviours as well. These 'good' bacteria are known as probiotics, where 'pro' means 'for' and 'bios' is 'life'.
The WHO defines probiotics as "live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health bene?t on the host". Discovered by the Russian scientist Metchnikoff in the 20th century; simply put, probiotics are micro-organisms such as bacteria or yeast, which improve the health of an individual. Our bodies contain more than 500 different species of bacteria which serve to maintain our health by keeping harmful pathogens in check, supporting the immune system and helping in digestion and absorption of nutrients.
From the very first breath you take, you are exposed to probiotics. How so? As an infant passes through it's mother's birth canal, it receives a good dose of healthy bacteria, which in turn serve to populate it's own gastro-intestinal tract. However, unfortunately, as we go through life, our exposure to overly processed foods, anti-bacterial products, sterilized and pasteurized food etc, might mean that in our zeal to have everything sanitary and hygienic, we might be depriving ourselves of the beneficial effects of such microorganisms.
For any health care provider, the focus should not only be on eradicating disease but improving overall health as well. Here, probiotic containing foods and supplements play an important role as they not only combat diseases but also confer better health in general. Self dosing yourself with bacteria might sound a little bizarre at first-after all, we take antibiotics to fight bacteria. But let's not forget that long before probiotics became a viable medical option, our grandparents (and their parents before them) advocated the intake of yoghurt drinks (lassi). The fermented milk acts as an instant probiotic delivery system to the body!
Although they are still being studied, probiotics may help several specific illnesses, studies show. They have proven useful in treating childhood diarrheas as well as antibiotic associated diarrhea. Clinical trial results are mixed, but several small studies suggest that certain probiotics may help maintain remission of ulcerative colitis and prevent relapse of Crohn’s disease and the recurrence of pouchitis (a complication of surgery during treatment of ulcerative colitis). They may also help to maintain a healthy urogenital system, preventing problems such as vaginitis and UTIs.
Like all things, probiotics may have their disadvantages too. They are considered dangerous for people with impaired immune systems and one must take care to ensure that the correct strain of bacteria related to their required health benefit is present in such supplements. But when all is said and done and all the pros and cons of probiotics are weighed; stand back ladies and gentlemen, there's a new superhero in town, and what's more-it's here to stay!
There are roughly 7000 medical students graduating each year from 33 medical schools in the UK. Medical degrees take either 4, 5 or 6 years depending on the route you take.
The government via the Student Finance Company will pay for your tuition fees for the first 4 years of any undergraduate degree. After this the NHS will pay for the last year or 2 years of the undergraduate medical tuition fees.
The maintenance loan depends on family income. The figures aren’t easy to find for the background of most UK medical students but a ‘guestimate’ based on my medical school is that 50% went to a private school, 30% went to selective state schools and 20% went to a comprehensive. Of the private school kids probably about half had a scholarship or bursary. So, a rough guess would be that 70% of med students come from a “middle class” family who have a decent income but not huge wealth and are therefore eligible for a ‘maintenance loan’ above the minimum. This majority therefore rely on there loan to get through the year.
An average student income is between £1000 and £1500/term (£1200 average-ish). Most university terms are 10 weeks, hence average income is about £120/week. As a preclinical medical student this is fine and we are on par with everyone else. As soon as we become clinical med students the game changes!
Clinical years are far longer, more like 40 weeks a year rather than 30. Students are on placement, have to dress professionally and travel to placement daily. This adds additional costs and requires the money to stretch further. Doubly bad!
Once, the NHS starts paying the tuition fees, the Student Loans Company starts reducing the maintenance loan, by half! Why?
A final year student or a 4th year who has intercalated now has to survive at University for one of their course’s longest years with half the money they had previously. >40 weeks on a loan of roughly £1500/year. This situation is pretty much unique to medical students.
Some students are lucky enough to have parents who can afford the extra couple of thousand pounds required for the year. Some students get selected into the military and get a salary. A greater proportion find part time jobs to help cover the cost and the rest have to resort to saving money where they can and taking out loans.
When I was a member of the BMA medical student committee I did a project as part of the finance sub-committee investigating the loans available for medical students. Many banks used to “professional development loans” which allowed medical and law students to borrow money for a year before they had to start repaying the loan. Hardly any banks now offer this service, so the only loan available is an overdraft or a standard loan that requires you to have a regular income.
This means that final year medical students with limited family support may have to live for a year on less than £2000. Does this seem fair? Does this seem sensible government policy?
Medical students are 99% guaranteed to be earning over £25 thousand pounds within a year. We will be able to repay any loans. So why isn’t the Student Loan Company allowing us to continue having a ‘normal’ maintenance loan? And why aren’t banks giving us the benefit of the doubt and helping us out in our time of need?
When I was on the BMA MSC there was talk of having a campaign to lobby government and the banks to rectify this situation but I can’t say I’ve been aware of any such campaign. Are the NUS, BMA, UKMSA or anyone else doing anything about this?
Please do leave a comment if you do know if there has been a progress and if there hasn’t why don’t we start making a fuss about this!
Great people make mistakes. Unfortunately, medicine is a subject where mistakes are not tolerated. Doctors are supposed to be infallible; or, at least, that is the present dogma. Medical students regularly fall victim to expecting too much of themselves, but this is perhaps not a bad trait when enlisting as a doctor.
If it weren’t for mistakes in our understanding, then we wouldn’t progress. Studying a BSc in Anatomy has exposed me to the real world of science – where the negative is just as important as the positive. What isn’t there is just as important as what is. If you look into the history of Anatomy, it truly is a comedy of errors. So, here are three top mistakes by three incredibly influential figures who still managed to be remembered for the right reasons.
3. A Fiery Stare
Culprit: Alcmaeon of Croton
Go back far enough and you’ll bump into someone called Alcmaeon. Around the 5th century, he was one of the first dissectors – but not an anatomist. Alcmaeon was concerned with human intellect and was desperately searching for the seat of the soul.
He made a number of major errors - quite understandable for his time! Alcmaeon insisted that sleep occurs when the blood vessels filled and we wake when they empty. Perhaps the most outrageous today is the fact that he insisted the eyes contained water both fire and water…
Don’t be quick to mock. Alcmaeon identified the optic tract, the brain as the seat of the mind (along with Herophilus) and the Eustachian tubes.
2. Heart to Heart
Culprit: Claudius Galen
Legend has it that Galen’s father had a dream in which an angel/deity visited him and told him that his son would be a great physician. That would have to make for a pretty impressive opening line in a personal statement by today’s standards. Galen was highly influential on modern day medicine and his treatise of Anatomy and healing lasted for over a thousand years. Many of Galen’s mistakes were due to his dissections of animals rather than humans. Unfortunately, dissection was banned in Galen’s day and where his job as physician to the gladiators provided some nice exposed viscera to study, it did not allow him to develop a solid foundation.
Galen’s biggest mistake lay in the circulation. He was convinced that blood flowed in a back and forth, ebb-like motion between the chambers of the heart and that it was burnt by muscle for fuel. Many years later, great physician William Harvey proposed our modern understanding of circulation.
1. The Da Vinci Code
Culprit: Leonardo Da Vinci
If you had chance to see the Royal Collection’s latest exhibition then you were in for a treat. It showcased the somewhat overlooked anatomical sketches of Leonardo Da Vinci. A man renowned for his intelligence and creativity, Da Vinci also turns out to be a pretty impressive anatomist. In his sketches he produces some of the most advanced 3D representations of the human skeleton, muscles and various organs. One theory of his is, however, perplexing.
In his sketches is a diagram of the spinal cord……linked to penis. That’s right, Da Vinci was convinced the two were connected (no sexist comments please) and that semen production occurred inside the brain and spinal cord, being stored and released at will. He can be forgiven for the fact that he remarkably corrected himself some years later. His contributions to human physiology are astounding for their time including identification of a ‘hierarchal’ nervous system, the concept of equal ‘inheritence’ and identification of the retina as a ‘light sensing organ’.
The list of errors is endless. However, they’re not really errors. They’re signposts that people were thinking. All great people fail, otherwise they wouldn’t be great.