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What is Medicine in Remote Areas?

Remote Medicine

Medicine in remote areas is the practice of medicine where access to medical services, support and facilities is restricted or non-existent. Without access to critical resources, medics operating in remote environments must provide advanced care and treatment beyond basic first aid.

It’s not a new practice either. Though we don’t know for a fact where remote medicine was first used, we do have an idea of its origins.

A (very) short history of Medicine in Remote Areas

The practice of medicine in remote areas has been in use for thousands of years. Propelled by war – like many of humanity’s advancements – empires of the ancient world are likely to have developed the earliest forms of remote healthcare. We know the Romans relied on rudimentary yet effective remote medical care when campaigning in far-flung hostile territories like Britannia and Gaul.

Most technological advancements come about in response to the prevailing priorities of the era. For instance, the energy industry has been a guiding force in contemporary remote medicine developments. The deeper they delved into medically isolated and inhospitable environments searching for gas and oil, the more vital effective remote medical care became.

Such achievements have been assisted in parallel by critical advancements in medical communications. Space travel is arguably one of the most influential by developing comms capable of reaching astronauts in space, the technology of which has been integral to the success of remote medicine on earth.

Why is medicine in remote areas needed?

In the 21st Century, our reliance on medicine in isolated areas is mounting.

The pursuit of resources, scientific expedition, humanitarian relief and the rise in commercial adventure travel generates a continuously rising demand for medical professionals trained in remote medicine.

While it’s true that exploration and modern communication have created a world that feels smaller, the scale of earth’s isolated and extreme environments are vast and still present significant challenges for medical care. With our gaze turned toward the stars, the immense task of space exploration also drives the necessity to provide adequate medical care in the remotest environments – and tens of thousands of miles away from earth is about as ‘remote’ as you can get.

 Which medical professionals work in remote areas?

‘Medicine in remote areas’ is a broad term that relies on a wide range of skillsets harnessed from a diverse set of medical specialities and means there are plenty of opportunities for a range of medical professionals.

However, additional training in remote medicine is required to take on a remote medic job. Varied competency levels in Pre-Hospital Emergency Medicine (PHEM) and supplementary experiences are usually needed.

Let’s look at some examples.

Remote Doctors

Remote doctors come from various backgrounds of expertise, including General Practice, Psychiatry, Emergency Medicine, Surgery and Anaesthetics.

Working with organisations, requirements for experience and other needs can vary. In the UK, these can include:

  • Full registration with the General Medical Council (GMC)
  • A valid licence to practice medicine
  • Additional qualifications, e.g., adult (ALS) and paediatric (APLS/PALS) trauma and resuscitation (ATLS, ATACC, PHTLS)
  • Demonstrable pre-hospital situational awareness, the ability to make sound clinical judgements under pressure and leadership
  • Authorisation to work outside an Approved Practice Setting

Remote Nurses

The primary concern in remote areas is wound care, thereby making nurses a vital addition to any team – injury and wounds account for the bulk of medical problems, especially on an expedition.

The following experience may be required before becoming a remote nurse. In the UK, these may include:

  • A minimum period of post-registration experience
  • Pre-hospital care or emergency nursing
  • Additional qualifications, e.g., Immediate Life Support (ILS) via Resuscitation Council UK
  • No current practice restrictions as a Registered nurse with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC)

Remote Paramedics

Remote paramedics (or ‘expedition paramedics’) generally attend to a broader set of procedures, diagnostics and medication (e.g., antibiotics) than a regular paramedic. These can include advanced wound care, supervision of common illnesses and trauma management.

UK-based appointees may also be required to have:

  • A minimum period of post-registration experience
  • No current practice restrictions alongside Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration
  • Own arrangements to purchase, store and use controlled drugs

Remote Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs)

EMTs in a remote or extreme environment provide pre-hospital care (medical and trauma), manage incidents, assess patients, and give treatment.

In the UK, EMTs may be required to:

  • Have an EMT qualification at a certain RQF level (e.g., Level 5)
  • Be able to prove competence and training in immediate life support (including use of a defibrillator/AED)
  • Be trained in intermediate airway management

Remote First Aiders

First Aiders in a remote setting tend to be qualified beyond the typical first aid knowledge, managing on-scene trauma and treating the most common problems encountered in a remote environment.

Organisations may also require the following to be a remote First Aider:

  • Hold First Aid RCF Level 3 or IHCD First Person on Scene qualifications
  • Experience delivering first aid to the public
  • Proven competency and training in the use of automated defibrillators, airway adjuncts and bag-mask ventilation and use of certain medical gasses

Skillsets that go beyond medicine

Medical proficiency only forms a part of the broader skillset needed to succeed in medicine in remote areas.

We know prevention is better than cure, and the skills in survival, fieldcraft, and support equipment are essential to master alongside medical training for this very reason. After all, if you know how to purify water and choose the best clothing for the job, you’re already helping avoid unnecessary medical problems.

Learning the basics of navigation and camp building is also vital to success, as is leadership, risk assessment, incident management, and search and rescue.

If you’re wondering where you learn all these skills (and more) in one place, we have the answer for you…

How to get involved in medicine in remote areas

There are various routes into remote medicine. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you need to succeed as a remote medic.

  1. Bring plenty of positivity and an adventurous spirit

Medicine in remote areas is a different kind of demanding. It’s not just the medical dilemma before you to consider, but the broader associated environmental risks and the long periods away from creature comforts, friends, and family. A positive outlook and willing attitude for adventure is essential!

  1. Get training and experience

You can get valuable experience by undertaking a remote medicine course. Get to grips with the foundational elements of remote medicine first by taking a foundational course. That’ll open your way to refining your skills with a range of specialised courses, homing in on specific environmental challenges like Desert Medicine or Polar Medicine.

  1. Start networking

Networking goes a long way in any industry, and remote medicine work is no different. Attending courses will put you in touch with like-minded medics and world-class faculty. Our course faculty are always happy to help make introductions and give direction.

If you want the ultimate networking opportunity, our three-day annual World Extreme Medicine Conference is unbeatable. As the largest medical conference of its kind in the world, we play host to the top minds and organisations from every discipline of extreme and remote medicine. It’s the best place to meet, build valuable relationships, and get facetime with people from top-tier institutions like NASA, SpaceX, Médecins Sans Frontières, Raleigh International, and Save the Children. You can attend either in person in Edinburgh (UK) or online via our digital conference platform.

Level up with International Diploma/MSc in Extreme Medicine

In partnership with the University of Exeter (UK), this master’s course offers the most complete specialist remote medicine training.

Covering the breadth of extreme and remote medicine, you can choose your own path to become a specialist in any niche you like. Have you always dreamed of becoming a Humanitarian medic? Yearned for a career as Mountain medic? Heard the call of the sea as an Ocean medic?

This is where you start.

Jobs practicing medicine in remote areas

When you’re ready to seek out job opportunities, places like Critical Care International, Adventure Medic and our job section are great starting points in your search. Reaching out to organisations like Raleigh International, UK-Med, Team Rubicon, and MSF can yield results, too, as they often have placements available.

Growth in the markets for skills in medicine in remote areas also means that opportunities will continue to grow. If you’d like to find out more, or at least get a taster for what it’s all about, contact us today.

Have you got what it takes to #BeExtreme?

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