What is an Expedition Doctor? Everything you need to know

7 October 2021

The fusion of medical expertise and a passion for travel can carve an exhilarating career in extreme medicine, and will be a valuable asset to any expedition team – but how does one make this happen and what is involved? Read on…

What is an Expedition Doctor?
An Expedition Doctor is responsible for the physical and mental wellbeing of people before, during, and after an expedition. Excellent planning and evaluation of risks before an expedition is integral to its success. Planning allows the necessary precautions to be taken so that during and after the expedition, the expedition doctor can treat any injuries or illnesses that occur.

3 roles of an Expedition Doctor
The role of an Expedition Doctor can be varied, but we can define the role more clearly in three parts:

  1. Prepare and Prevent
    The most important work an Expedition Doctor can do will take place before the expedition begins. Claire Grogan is an emergency medical doctor, honorary clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School and fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. She told the Guardian she must “anticipate the unexpected.”She recalls a time in the Himalayas when an earthquake struck, but prior planning meant she was well prepared to deal with the crisis. “An Earthquake had been one of the risks we discussed before leaving the UK, and we had agreed to always have a grab bag with water, passports and food ready to go in an emergency. It seemed like overkill at the time, but that small amount of forethought really helped.”An Expedition Doctor’s pre-expedition checklist should also include pinpointing the location of nearby medical facilities, analysing the geography and weather of the country they’re visiting, the number of expedition members in the team, and what prophylactic drugs and medical equipment they need to take.
  2. During the expedition
    During the expedition, the Expedition Doctor will follow their robust plan to ensure injuries and illnesses of team members are kept to a minimum. Some of these prepare and prevent methods can work during the expedition too.In an interview with Lonely Planet, Australian ER doctor Andrew Peacock said that a key part of an expedition doctor’s role is to prevent things before they happen, rather than reacting to them. “…keeping an eye out and mentally noting who isn’t doing what they need to do to stay well and acting accordingly. Turning one or two around early, for instance, before they run into real trouble.”In some instances, there could be two parts to a doctor’s responsibilities during an expedition. For example, an expedition to provide humanitarian aid to people in remote parts of Africa would require the Expedition Doctor to care of their team as they travel to and from the location. The second part of their job would be to provide medical aid for people in those remote areas.
  3. After the expedition
    An Expedition Doctor’s role can continue after the expedition. There may be a requirement to provide support for people who need rehabilitation or physiotherapy following an injury. Doctors may need to prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat an illness or offer mental and emotional support for a traumatic experience.

How do you become an Expedition Doctor?
The first step to becoming an Expedition Doctor is completing your medical training. Once you are a qualified doctor you will have the fundamental skills you need to apply your medical brilliance in a remote environment.

Extreme medicine and wilderness courses are designed to provide experience and to put your knowledge to the test. Our World Extreme Medicine Training Courses blend engaging lecture content with hands-on practical workshops out in the wilderness, culminating in a real-time search and rescue simulation. Once you have completed the course, you will be ready for your first expedition.

The 4-Day Expedition That Will Redefine You

Where you can join us:

How do you start your career as an Expedition Doctor?
A great way to gain more real-world experience is join expeditions with organisations such as Raleigh International, UK-Med, Team Rubicon and Médecins Sans Frontières. Many of our course alumni have gone on to provide care during natural disasters and emergencies around the world.

Francesco is one of our former students and told us that the course went far beyond his expectations. “This course opened my mind to new horizons, uncovering possibilities that I otherwise would probably never have considered!

“The excitement and the productive learning acquired at the World Extreme Medicine course came back with me to the critical care where I work, and I am convinced will improve my practice, regardless of how hostile and wild the environment may be.”

As the expedition world evolves, groups with more complex needs are commonly taking part in expeditions. This means the range of healthcare needed can be incredibly varied.

We recommend you make connections and check websites such Critical Care International and Adventure Medic for exciting opportunities, extreme medicine updates, and job posts.

→ Join an extreme medicine training course today


Sign up to WEM

Sign up to our newsletter