Academic Achievements: Nikki McLeary Awarded Academic Prize

10 August 2023

Nikki McLeary’s unconventional career path has allowed her to accumulate a unique mix of skill sets and experience over the past 25 years. Her completion of the MSc in Extreme Medicine at Exeter University has further upskilled her knowledge of medical conditions in challenging environments. With her recent graduation with Distinction and academic prize for Highest Grade Point Average, Nikki continues to make significant contributions to the field as Science/Project Lead for the World Extreme Medicine Paramount contract and Faculty Lead for Ocean Medicine.

In this blog post, discover Nikki’s journey and how pursuing an academic course in Extreme Medicine can help you achieve your career goals in this exciting and dynamic field.


Sixth Form A-Level PE opened up an opportunity to engage with the outdoors. A hike up Snowdon with a trekking company at 17 years old introduced Nikki to the concept of running a commercial business that was challenging, engaging and lucrative. She swapped History, as planned, for a Sports & Health Sciences degree at Brighton University, surrounded by the South Downs and the Ocean.

Juggling her studies with a full-time job as a lifeguard and swim teacher was challenging at the time but a strong work ethic and significant work experience helped Nikki to secure the role of Editor with 3 Sports & Health Science publications upon graduation.

Back in the late 1990s, there was no such thing as an Adventure Sports Scientist, but a regular income meant Nikki could start carving her own path. She went back to Brighton every weekend to crew racing yachts, while holidays were spent skiing, snowboarding and hiking at every opportunity. In the early 2000s, she saw an advert in The Times for a Sports Scientist with academic publishing experience and a love of extreme sports and applied… along with 7,000 other people!

By the age of 23, Nikki was working with a range of elite extreme athletes including Formula One drivers and Vendée Globe sailors. She specialised in translating scientific and medical research about Sleep, Stress, Nutrition and Fitness into useable content. Later her skill set would be applied to corporate FTSE 5000 companies, which was cutting-edge at the time.

Keen to filter the lessons learned from elite high-end performance to the emerging adventure tourism market, Nikki then moved overseas where she remained for 15 years working in desert, winter mountain and ocean environments with ‘everyday adventurers’. Alongside she wrote for outdoor publications on the topics of physiology and psychology in extremes, eventually co-publishing her own 32-page magazine in collaboration with a London-based Sports Medicine company.

As the Adventure Tourism market exploded towards 2015, Nikki realised a gap existed for a course aimed at non-medics to equip adventurers and expeditioners with skill sets that would keep themselves, and others, safe in challenging environments. Adventure MedicineTM was launched.

Nikki says, “Everyone has a right to enjoy the outdoors with confidence and capability. Knowing the person next to you on the mountain has lifesaving medical skills is reassuring!”


By 2017, Nikki was looking for a qualification that would upskill her knowledge of medical conditions in challenging environments, mindful of the impact this has on human performance. 

She came across World Extreme Medicine MSc in Extreme Medicine in partnership with Exeter University. Access to the programme is usually only for medical professionals but applications from ‘exceptional non-medics’ are considered. Before being allowed on to the programme, Nikki was told to complete Medicine in Remote Areas, Frec 3, and Frec 4.

Nikki says, “The Masters gave me much more insight and knowledge about how to mitigate, recognise and respond to environment-specific illness and injury. The course has enabled me to confidently delve deeper into the medical literature and translate that for everyday adventurers, to explain where the risks are and how to mitigate them.”

The course has compulsory core modules (worth 15 – 30 credits) in the first year, each attached to a practical in the UK or overseas, followed by a robust academic paper linked to the learning. In the second year, students choose two overseas trips. Most students tend to be older, having practised medicine for some years. The Masters enables them to transition their medical skill set from a clinical environment to an outdoor one, for example, to work with mountain rescue or as a midwife at sea.

Nikki completed the Masters part-time while running her business and working for World Extreme Medicine as Science/Project Lead, mainly looking after complex Paramount filming projects. Focused on keeping thousands of employees safe at the height of the pandemic alongside Medical Lead Dr Joe Rowles and CEO Mark Hannaford. It’s been an all-consuming 2.5 years.

Nikki says, “As a non-medic specialising in human performance, I bring a different perspective and skill set. We’ve had to juggle in-country covid regulations with emerging evidence while factoring in extreme medicine considerations such as cold injury, heat illness, mosquito-borne diseases, and Acute Mountain Sickness depending on where filming took place. It’s been interesting navigating what is happening thousands of miles away in multiple different time zones simultaneously!”

Part of her final dissertation involved research that will be particularly useful for graduates and workforces, and she will publish this shortly. In 2022, Nikki graduated from the MSc Extreme Medicine with Distinction and won the academic prize for Highest Grade Point Average. 

Nikki’s journey highlights the importance of pursuing your passions and never giving up on your dreams. Her story is an inspiration to anyone who has faced obstacles in achieving their goals. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in extreme medicine or simply want to explore the field, consider enrolling in an academic course in extreme medicine. Not only will it provide you with the knowledge and skills to succeed in this challenging field, but it will also allow you to connect with like-minded individuals and experts in the field.

Take the first step towards your dream career today!

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