For the past three years I have been working in Antarctica during the Antarctic summer season.
I am the Physician for Palmer Station, a small scientific research station. We are located on Anvers Island,
off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, at about 64 degrees South.
At our little station, scientists study everything from the ozone hole (which is just above Antarctica
in the early spring) to the bacteria that live under the sea ice. Long-term studies are looking at how
global changes such as warming and ozone depletion affect the relatively simple Antarctic ecosystem. The
hopes are that changes here can help predict future global changes in the world"s climate and can estimate
how life on earth will adapt, or fail to adapt, to these changes.
Because we are on the coast, wildlife is abundant here. In the summer, we see penguins around station
on an almost daily basis, and we can visit a nearby rookery after work in a zodiac boat. We are witness
to a variety of other seabirds, including the Giant Petrel, a magnificent bird with a seven foot wingspan.
Sometimes I even have avian patients. I once followed the progress of a Giant Petrel chick with a broken
leg (she was eventually able to fly from the nest), and another time I was asked to perform a bird necropsy.
Other marine based animals also abound in the Palmer area. We have a variety of seals and whales, and
the sea is rich with giant algaes, giant sea spiders, coldwater fish, sponges and starfish. Almost every
year, other amazing new creatures are discovered.
We have a great community of people on station, and we usually number only thirty five to forty five
support staff and scientists during the summer season. However, we have a couple thousand tourists visit
each year from various cruise ships and yachts, so I often find myself giving a second opinion to a cruise
ship doc, or seeing someone who has arrived on a small yacht without a doctor on board I also provide
medical support to our research vessel personnel. So I never know what sort of call I might get from a
ship EMT, or who might show up at the door needing assistance.
I have a little clinic where I perform all of my own labs and where I take my own x-rays, developing
them in old-fashioned chemical baths. There is a well-stocked pharmacy, a defibrillator and an EKG machine.
We also have a telemedicine set-up with videoconferencing capabilities, and access to medical specialists
at a large teaching hospital should we need consultation. For a very remote location, we are incredibly
I feel like the luckiest gal in the world when I run into a penguin on the way to work, or when the sunsets
stretch into hours as the days get longer, or when a humpback whale greets me just feet from the edge
of the boat I am in. Most people think of Antarctica as a large slab of icy nothingness. This may be
somewhat true in the interior of the continent, but even there one finds breathtaking mountain peaks,
the sensual undulations of wind-swept snow, the dancing light of auroras, and the warmth of a close-knit
community of folks who have chosen to work in this unique environment.
So when people ask me "Why work in Antarctica?" my answer is, "How can I not work in Antarctica?"
This is the most beautiful environment and the most exciting work I have ever had the honor to experience.