Meet WEMski speaker Ben Cooper – WEM faculty, Charge Nurse ED and medic for Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions
Ben’s career path began in Whitley Bay, where as a young schoolboy he was inspired to work in challenging situations by his uncle’s exploits as a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot. This fascination with the ‘extreme’ inevitably led him into a career that now involves 3 of his favourite things – medicine, travel and adventure.
As a teenager, Ben and his friend had a climbing accident in the Lake District and were brought to safety by Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue team. It was this incident 15 years ago that started his pre-hospital care career and his love for mountain rescue. As an aspiring mountaineer he joined Northumberland National Park Search and Rescue Team and when he moved to Sheffield in 1994 to start a diploma in nursing studies, Ben joined Edale Mountain Rescue Team: one of Britain’s busiest based in the nearby Peak District National Park.
It was long-term friend and mountain rescue colleague Martin Roberts that first introduced the idea of becoming a location medic to Ben. Taking unpaid leave from the hospital, Ben took part in his first expedition to the Arctic, providing safety and medical support for a documentary being produced by Channel 4. Following the success of this Arctic expedition more job offers followed, and in 2001 he started working with consultancy company Poles Apart as a location medic. Enjoying his new-found love of practising medicine in extreme situations, Ben negotiated a contract with his hospital trust that allowed him to take 2-weeks unpaid leave each year to take on short-term projects for expedition organiser Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE).
Ben spent five seasons in the Antarctic at ALE’s field camp, Patriot Hills (home to one of the world’s most remote field hospitals) providing medical, rescue and emergency logistical support to expeditions. From there he has helped to provide medical and rescue cover to expeditions skiing to the South Pole, climbing Mount Vinson, running the Antarctic Marathon and 100km race as well as escorting clients on flights to the South Pole.
Ben now combines his work as an A&E Department Charge Nurse and an Emergency Nurse Practitioner at Northern General Hospital, Sheffield with film and expedition safety work in the Arctic and Antarctic as well as becoming a valued team member of the World Extreme Medicine faculty.
We are delighted to welcome Ben to our WEMski faculty and to give you a little taste of what Ben will be talking about at WEMski, we asked him these three questions…
Q. What skills would you say are vital in an extreme and challenging environment?
A. As a Nurse (medic) in an extreme environment the ability to improvise is essential, you never know what will happen next. Thinking on your feet and being able to adapt to your situation will stand you in good stead as well as having a good sense of humour!
Q. What first interested you in practising extreme medicine?
A. I was introduced to the great outdoors from a very early age by my parents first and then by joining the Scouts. I also had an uncle who was a Search and Rescue pilot so whilst growing up the outdoors became a big part of my life. I joined the Northumberland National Park Search and Rescue team to complete my Duke of Edinburgh award and Queen Scouts award, which kicked started my interest in mountain rescue. Upon relocating to Sheffield to complete my nurse’s training I joined Edale mountain rescue team where I came across a doctor called Martin Rhodes. We both worked for a company called Poles Apart, which specialised in TV/film location work in extreme environments. One thing lead to another and I then became the first UK Nurse (I think) to work in the interior of Antarctica. I then started working with Sean Hudson (World Extreme Medicine co-founder) which then linked me into working with World Extreme Medicine (WEM) and becoming part of the WEM faculty team.
Q. What has been your scariest ‘extreme’ situation and why?
A. My scariest situation was during a rescue in 2005 for a fallen climber in Antarctica. We had deteriorating weather and high winds, plus extreme cold (it was -45 degrees) and limited communication making the rescue attempt very challenging. We were descending in a Twin Otter, being buffeted around this small plane across a crevasse field whilst trying to avoid avalanche debris and this was on the ski way, we hadn’t even made it into the sky at this point!
To find out more information on WEMski or to book your place on what we promise will be an incredibly fun, diverse and inspiring week click here.