Call of the Wild for Swansea's Student Doctors
Student doctors from the fast-track Graduate Entry Programme (GEP) in Medicine at Swansea University are taking medical resources to remote places by leading an expedition to Europe’s tallest mountain in July.
Second year students at Swansea’s School of Medicine, Mike Wild and Nick Cochand, who established the Swansea University Wilderness Medicine Society (WMS) in January 2007, will lead an expedition of 18 students and researchers from Swansea and Cardiff to climb Mt Elbrus, Russia, Europe’s tallest mountain, to investigate risk factors for developing Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). The research team includes Professor Damian Bailey, Professor of Physiology at the University of Glamorgan.
This expedition is a feather in the cap for the WMS, which has accomplished several successful activities over the last 18 months. These include walks and medical scenarios in the Brecon Beacons, a society trip to North Wales to compete in the Welsh 1000m Peaks Race, and a day with the Western Beacons Mountain Search and Rescue Team (WBMSRT) learning about the practicalities of first aid in a remote environment.
Cochand said, “The aim of the trip is two-fold: to organise and undertake an expedition taking students and young people to the highest point in Europe and to conduct a novel research project, which seeks to answer some of the questions surrounding the aetiology of acute mountain sickness.”
In the first phase of the expedition, students will have MRI scans of their brains at the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC). A technique known as trans-cranial Doppler ultrasound will look at how the brain regulates blood flow in response to changing levels of oxygen in the air.
Variations in an individuals’ ability to regulate blood flow to the brain, known as ‘autoregulation’, may also contribute to development of AMS. Expedition members will be monitored at the snow cap of the mountain, at 3800m, for signs of AMS.
The third phase of the expedition will take place back in the UK, where students will again be scanned for any evidence of changes in the brain which might indicate AMS.
Medical cover for the expedition will be provided by Dr. Peter Davies, GP tutor at Swansea’s School of Medicine. Dr. Davies has many years of experience of pre-hospital medical care with the RNLI Mumbles lifeboat and has first-hand experience of trekking at high altitude.
Although initially only advertised to medical students, the society now boasts around 60 members from both the GEP course and associated Medical Sciences and Humanities courses at Swansea. Field trips and training apart, over the last 18 months, the WMS has organised talks on altitude medicine, diving medicine, and medical practice abroad, with speakers coming from as far away as Nepal.
Said Wild, “We started the society to educate other medical students about the practice of medicine in remote environments, and to provide experience to those students, who wish to join expeditions as medical officers. We also wanted to develop our own experience of the provision of medicine in wilderness settings.
“In the future,” said Wild, “We hope that the WMS will continue to grow and engage more future doctors in the area of wilderness medicine. We would like to see stronger links develop with the local rescue services, which could prove of benefit to both parties in the long term.”