Frances at Bird Island, photo by Spencer

In July of this year, our chief scientist Ted, along with representatives of other universities who would be participating in this cruise came to Woods Hole, MA, USA to discuss some logistics and plan out the trip in advance, as much as it was possible to plan in advance for a trip like this! One of the items highlighted was – SEE YOUR DENTIST BEFORE THE CRUISE, THERE WILL BE A DOCTOR “TRAINED IN DENTISTRY”, BUT NO DENTIST. Normally people are fearful of dentists themselves, and having had my 4 wisdom teeth painfully removed just a few months back, I could not imagine having a dental emergency handled by a ‘not-a-dentist-doctor’.

Little did I know that dentistry is only one of the many things a BAS doctors have to master. Read on from our short chat today with JCR’s doctor, Frances.

DA: Where did you go to medical school at:
FC: Newcastle, in England. My degree is in Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), which took me 5 years. 5 years is the standard in the UK. After your 5 years, you specialize in an area you are interested in, so it’s on the job training after that.

DA: How does admission to medical school work in the UK?
FC: In the Uk you can apply to 4 schools and you have to have the right grades. I didn’t have to for my year, but now all medical applicants have to take an exam.

DA: What did you do once you graduated?
FC: Actually before I graduated, I did a master’s (MSC – Master of Sciences) in Health Policy. Most people do this after they gradiate. In Health Policy, you learn about health economics, management and policy. I worked for 2 years as a junior doctor in Newcastle. And then worked nearly another 2 years as a radiology specialist registrar. This is in diagnostic and interventional radiology, doing MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds and procedures involving such scans. Then I had my position frozen for 18 months, and joined BASMU (British Antarctic Survey Medical Unit).

DA: From radiology, how did you decide to go to Antarctica:
FC: Well, I was eating breakfast one morning, last July, got an email saying ‘doctors wanted in Antarctica’. I submitted a letter of application, a CV and then went through an interview. We had 6 months of training in Plymouth and then I was on the JCR.

DA: What kinds of things do they teach at the training regarding being a doctor in Antarctica or a polar-bound ship?
FC: You have to practice medicine in a different environment, there are different hazards, then the remoteness at the bases with no incoming or outgoing traffic for many months, the cold weather, UV radiation, and of course you are single-handed. Both on the JCR and at Halley or Rothera, there’s only one doctor. You are also doing jobs that would normally be done by other healthcare practitioners yourself such as physio, dentistry, nurse, radiographer etc. Not the mention I AM the Hospital cleaning system and have to not only keep the hospital clean, but service all the machines and sterilise all my instruments.

DA: So when did you know you were assigned to the JCR?
FC: I found out in November 2009 and I sailed on the JCR for the first time on September 28,2010. I had no ship experience before, other than sailing. Luckily I do not get seasick, not even my first days.

DA: What is the most memorable thing that happened since you have been on the JCR?
FC: There is a ceremony called “Crossing the Line”; when we cross the equator for the first time. Traditionally it is an introduction into seafaring, a celebration of crossing the equator for sailors– for people who cross for the first time. For this special occasion, king Neptune comes onboard, you have charges read out, have gunk be dumped over your head, kiss a kipper (smoked herring), get hosed off by a fire hose on the deck. It took me a week to wash the gunk off my hair.

Frances getting baptized at the Crossing the Line Ceremony. Photo by Richard Turner

DA:What is your typical day like as our doctor?
FC:On a regular day, I get up at 7:20, eat breakfast, I walk into the surgery (hospital on ship) at 0750. Until 10:00, I wait for people to show up if they have any problems. In a typical morning surgery I see people with things which they would normally go to a family doctor with (for example athlete’s foot, dry skin, coughs and colds). For the rest of my day I look after my surgery and am “on-call” for people who get injured or who develop problems throughout the day. Sunburn is a common problem – although we do provide suncream for free here.

DA: What kind of medicine do you have onboard with you?
FC: We have everything you would need in an emergency and most things you can buy from a chemist such as suncream, moisturizer, travel sickness pills, antibiotics, painkillers, skin creams, condoms, emergency contraception, blood pressure medication, asthma inhalers etc. We have every group of drugs but not necessarily every drug brand in that group. Crew are covered by BAS insurance for all cases. If there is a situation that might require them to get evacuated to Punta Arenas or Stanley, that is covered by BAS as well. We had one last year.

DA: What do you like about your time on the JCR so far?
FC: Really good scenery, people, crew… The science is interesting. I’ve made new friends. My sister bought me a Lego advent calendar, so I get to open open every day until Christmas and find a new Lego. The food onboard is good, even though now we’re down to canned and frozen fruits and veggies. The benefit of being on the JCR versus being at a base is that you get to see everything – Bird Island, KEP, Rothera, Halley…

DA: Do you have to be an ice/mountain climbing doctor to be employed by the British Antarctic Survey?
FC: No. I am an outdoorsy person and I would love to learn to ski / snowboard but have never got around to it. I like to do hill walking, kayaking, running, and have also done some ice climbing up in Scotland. If I were on a base, I’d love it and learn to ski and snowboard.

DA: What do you do onboard when you’re not doing doctor things?
FC: I used to go to the gym, play the violin, guitar and knit. Since i broke my shoulder I am reading mostly instead of guitar playing.

DA: What will you do when your BAS contract is over?
FC: I took 18 months off from my radiology job. I will spend 18 months with BAS, then go back to being a radiology specialist for 3 more years.

DA: Ok, bonus question. Have you been to Turkey?
FC: I have, many years ago and even though I liked the scenery and the people, I remember the markets/bazaars being busy and full of people which I don’t really like. Also I did an exchange program in Frankfurt, Germany where I stayed with a Turkish family and it was great! Özlem was the girl who got to go to the UK, and Gül was their other daughter.

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