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South Georgia and the Southern Ocean
  1. Hazel Woodland
  1. Correspondence to Department of Gastroenterology, Royal United Hospital, Combe Park, Bath BA1 3NG, UK; hazelwoodland{at}

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So, what does a doctor on a Sub-Antarctic research station do with only 11 young and fit people as potential patients? I get asked that a lot and I’ll endeavour to give some impression of what life is like as the only doctor on South Georgia (figures 1 and 2): the answer is essentially, ‘not a lot of doctoring’! However, before going South, I spent 18 months working in rural Tanzania, running a busy medical ward, watching too many people die, and battling the complex challenges invariably faced while working in this environment. The thought of a more relaxed pace of life and the chance to learn some non-medical skills was appealing. In summer on South Georgia, I was responsible for the medical and dental needs of around 50 people, but over winter that fell to just 11, plus the occasional fishing boat stopping by for a consultation. Overall, I spent 9 months split over two trips on the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross floating around the Southern Ocean doing research and logistics work, and 10 months on the absolutely stunning Sub-Antarctic Island of South Georgia (figure 3). During that time, I ran a post office (discovering the philatelic world to be extremely complicated and at times demanding), learnt how to drive jet boats and rigid inflatable boats through ice, with seals and penguins popping up around the boats, ordered and managed the station’s food supply (no mean feat to order dry food and frozen for a year for an unknown number of people with unknown eating habits), rationed the crisp and chocolate supply (Oh, the stress!) and explored some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth on foot and by sea.

Figure 1

South Georgia.

Figure 2

Flag of South Georgia.

Figure 3

King Edward Point Research Station, South Georgia.

Medicine at sea

Spending 9 months on board a ship was …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned. Internally peer reviewed.

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    Phil Smith Geraint N Fuller

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