Dr Rebecca Trimble / FY1 & Adventure Medic Editor / Edinburgh
Another year draws near to a close and for the medical adventure and expedition enthusiasts, that means the annual World Extreme Medicine (WEM) Conference at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh. The culmination of all things wilderness, expedition and humanitarian medicine all rolled into a well-run, exciting and inspiring weekend to remember.
As an editor for Adventure Medic, my colleagues and I were kindly invited to attend the WEM conference for another year. We are an online magazine showcasing all things adventurous within medicine, and advocate for the alternative opportunities available outside the regular NHS hospital job. We publish articles written by doctors, nurses and paramedics who have a story to tell; from high-altitude expeditions, to jungle medicine; and from polar research to humanitarian aid work. The WEM conference is the perfect opportunity for networking and hearing all about all the latest adventurous trips our colleagues have taken or are planning.
This year the WEM conference theme was ‘Thriving in Adversity’. The line-up certainly did not disappoint; with Dr. Kevin Fong, Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor, and Dr. Chris Imray to name but a few; attending to share exhilarating stories and ground-breaking research on topics from polar medicine to space exploration to conflict zone management.
As well as the many inspirational talks and workshops on offer, a particular attraction of the WEM conference is the opportunity for delegates to network with a wide variety of other like-minded folk, organisations, and industries. During the breaks each day the air was alive with the chatter and hustle and bustle over coffee in the atmospheric dome of Dynamic Earth. It was such a privilege to be in the company of some of the most remarkable medics, scientists, explorers and adventurers who are pushing the boundaries of exploration and understanding of the human body in extremes. It was clear from this year’s conference that the world of expedition medicine is not confined by the boundaries of planet earth; but that the many technological and engineering advances have allowed astronauts to push medical research into space. This year certainly, the WEM tagline, ‘where mankind goes, medicine must follow’ resonated particularly.
In between manning the Adventure Medic stand and chatting to delegates about their extraordinary stories, we had the privilege of being able to listen to the many inspiring talks in the ‘Biosphere’ (main conference hall). Instantly upon walking into this inspiring space, you could feel the waves of energy from a hundred or so aspiring or established expedition and remote doctors, nurses, and paramedics. It was impossible not to be enthralled by the many world-class speakers on the program, and even if you found yourself in a talk that hadn’t initially made it onto your ‘must-see’ list on the excellent WEM mobile app, it was hard to not be hooked within the first minute.
I was particularly keen to hear the lecture about the Grenfell Tower fire, and dealing with the aftermath of a major disaster. The senior investigating police officer Det. Supt. Matt Bonner, gave a humbling and heartfelt talk about how the tragic events of the night unfolded, the scene search and rescue and the complex and lengthy process of victim identification. Also an interesting point of discussion was the occupational health considerations of the officers involved, who were on site for five months, and many of whom volunteered their time in addition to their usual duties. This was a moving talk and resonated with many on a personal as well as an academic level.
Another highlight was hearing Dr. Kevin Fong, consultant anaesthetist at University College London Hospitals and flying doctor with Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance, speak about managing risk in complex environments; challenging the limits of the human body; and the technological advantages that have allowed further space exploration and research to take place.
A salient theme running throughout the conference was mental health on expedition. There were a couple of fascinating lectures from clinical psychologist Dr. Kate Baecher; who has worked with many groups including the special forces and elite sporting teams. She shared her advice on how to maintain sanity, humour and humanity in remote environments; and how to avoid burnout and protect your mental health in extreme environments.
By the end of each day, it was hard to not feel inadequate in the company of such ‘maverick medics’. But at the same time, revved up with a new-found appreciation for our planet, our people, and the incredible achievements that are possible when you put the two together; with a little imagination, hard work and determination. As proceedings drew to a close, I strolled out of Dynamic Earth and onto the historic streets of the Edinburgh old town on a cold, clear November night. Walking home along the same streets I have walked countless times, but this time with a newfound appreciation for the possibilities that lie before each of us in life; if we are not reticent in grasping the opportunities presented to us.
The World Extreme Medicine Conference is returning to Edinburgh from 17-19th October 2020. Click here to book your ticket now!