Whether you dream of treating remote expedition teams, providing medical aid in disaster zones, or supporting daring rescue missions, a career in extreme medicine requires specialized skills and a sense of adventure. However, the expansive nature of extreme medicine means that healthcare professionals have a variety of opportunities to break into the field.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in extreme medicine, here’s an overview of the job opportunities you can expect, how to get a job in extreme medicine, and what you can do to prepare.
Job Opportunities in Extreme Medicine
Since healthcare access is vital everywhere, careers in extreme medicine are often abundant and attract professionals with a personal interest in adventure and a love for medicine.
“There’s quite a diverse range of career options in extreme medicine,” says Eoin Walker, a paramedic and clinical instructor who has spent two decades providing emergency care and training around the world.
For example, there are opportunities to work at extreme sports events—such as ultramarathons, alpine skiing, and skateboarding tournaments—where skilled medics are essential to treating serious injuries quickly. In the marine industry, healthcare providers can work for cruise lines, diving expeditions, research vessels, and even offshore rigs.
Wilderness medicine, a subsect of extreme medicine, offers even more career opportunities. Beyond the conventional side of wilderness medicine, which focuses on search and rescue missions in mountainous and other austere environments, film and media companies that shoot footage in extreme environments often need medical providers to care for staff as well. “That seems to be a growth industry,” says Walker.
Humanitarian medicine is another faction that offers immense opportunities. Working with international aid organizations allows you to deliver medical care to remote communities affected by conflict or disasters. These same principles can be applied to military medicine as well when special forces provides aid to fellow soldiers or communities affected by war.
Expedition jobs in extreme medicine may appeal to people who enjoy researching and strategizing. These roles involve exploring locations to assess risks and improve preparedness for future expeditions. Walker notes that extreme medicine jobs with conventional emergency response organizations are also available. “We have a number of individuals who work in mainstream ambulance services, which go out on expeditions intermittently,” he explains. “It’s quite diverse. I myself work for an ambulance service, as well as in education and clinical practice in expedition medicine.”
5 Essential Steps to Getting a Job in Extreme Medicine
The opportunities available in extreme medicine largely depend on your professional background and lifestyle flexibility. These positions often require travel, a proactive mindset, and a willingness to venture into unfamiliar situations.
If you’re ready to make a career transition, here are five steps you should consider when breaking into the field of extreme medicine.
1. Research the Field
Conduct thorough research to understand the different applications of extreme medicine and how they translate to industries that interest you. Not every job opportunity will appeal to you, so it’s important to know what conditions or challenges you’re open to facing.
Walker suggests getting information from:
- Medical journals
- Academic institutions
- Industry organizations (e.g., The National Geographic Society and The British Exploring Society)
“Also consider looking at various websites that cater to extreme medics,” says Walker.
Experienced practitioners can be another invaluable source of knowledge. Aim to connect with current professionals through networking events, conferences, or online forums to gain insights into their day-to-day responsibilities and required skills.
Additionally, seek out opportunities for practical experience, such as volunteering with outdoor organizations or shadowing expedition medical teams that take a large number of students, Walker advises. “That’s where the majority of the jobs reside.”
2. Obtain the Right Education
Determine what education you’ll need to obtain extreme medicine jobs. Depending on your current field and level of education, you may need to earn a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in a relevant field, such as nursing, emergency medicine, or paramedicine. If you’re already a physician, nurse, or paramedic, though, taking courses in extreme medicine can open the door to specialized training in wilderness or disaster medicine.
When considering additional education, “the baseline is looking at institutions like Northeastern to get the foundation of extreme medicine,” says Walker. Through these programs, you’ll be more informed when choosing a discipline that aligns with your career goals, such as jungle medicine, desert medicine, or even cold weather medicine.
3. Get Necessary Qualifications
For some positions, employers may prefer qualifications beyond entry-level education. Looking at job descriptions and consulting professionals in the field can help you determine the credentials you’ll need to secure your desired positions.
Some qualifications to consider include:
- A graduate-level certificate (e.g., Northeastern’s Graduate Certificate in Extreme Medicine)
- A prehospital trauma life support (PHTLS) course
- A diploma in immediate medical care (DipIMC)
If you plan to work internationally, though, make sure you obtain credentials that will be recognized in the countries you hope to practice in.
4. Garner Industry Experience
Experience requirements vary based on the specific position. However, most employers expect you to have at least two years of post-graduation clinical practice under your belt.
“This is typically to establish baseline competency in care,” Walker explains.
The best way to gain industry experience is often volunteering for extreme medicine positions, such as an expedition medic or providing humanitarian aid. These options typically have the most volunteer opportunities that don’t require extensive extreme medicine experience.
Before medical providers can thrive in extreme environments, it’s vital to build proficiency in core aspects of medical care. Armed with knowledge and practical experience, extreme medicine professionals will have a greater ability to be resourceful, disciplined, and composed under pressure.
5. Develop a Diverse Skill Set
Increasing your versatility will help you adapt to changing conditions and unexpected challenges. Thinking about the most important skills in extreme medicine, Walker points out that “first and foremost, these professionals need good nontechnical skills.”
Medics have to be able to listen and communicate well with others, both in understanding the needs of patients and coordinating care with other team members.
Delegation, risk mitigation, and planning are also key skills that can make or break emergency response efforts. “That might mean consistently checking kits or making sure there’s adequate planning and preparation for them,” says Walker.
To succeed in most roles, extreme medicine professionals must develop a high level of technical and clinical expertise. “So, good clinical assessment skills are essential,” concludes Walker. Other important skills include problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership, all of which are invaluable when you have to depend on others in tough environments while doing your part to manage health risks.
How To Prepare for a Job in Extreme Medicine
Preparing to get a job in extreme medicine requires a combination of physical and mental readiness. From building stamina and staying physically fit to nurturing mental resilience and fostering effective communication, aspiring professionals must equip themselves to thrive in challenging environments.
Overcome Your Fear of the Unknown
Embarking on expeditions and journeying into disaster-stricken regions comes with a lot of uncertainty. Having reservations is normal, but medical professionals in this field have to be willing to work through this apprehension.
“I think there’s a certain degree of fear of the unknown,” says Walker. This, in addition to historical conceptions of extreme medicine—often associated with casualties and scary medical situations—can make many healthcare professionals feel uneasy about the field.
However, conducting thorough research, seeking industry training, and engaging with experienced professionals can help allay most of these fears. The best way to prepare is to confront any questions you may have, such as:
- Do you need to travel internationally?
- How long are contract jobs?
- How many patients will you manage at one time?
Equipping yourself with as much knowledge and practical experience as possible can go a long way in allying any fears you might have about jobs in extreme medicine.
Establish Yourself as a Generalist
Many extreme medicine jobs, including those on expeditions, put healthcare providers in a primary care role rather than a specialist role. Due to the diverse and unpredictable nature of extreme environments, professionals must be equipped to handle a broad range of situations, including trauma care and surgical intervention.
Northeastern tries to establish this shift early by “training students on the common situations they’ll find in extreme medicine that they need to be aware of,” says Walker.
Minor wound care, foot care, hydration, temperature control, and temperature management are just a few of the tasks you can expect to encounter, according to Walker. Being a generalist equips you with the versatility and preparedness to address the various medical challenges inherent in working in austere and remote settings.
Focus on Experience
Aspiring extreme medicine professionals can never have too much experience. Expose yourself to clinical skill-building activities whenever possible, “because it really will test your experience, technical expertise, and nontechnical skills,” says Walker.
Before diving into an intensive expedition or search and rescue environment, start creating a solid baseline as a clinician. “Many new professionals in this field might be uncomfortable because they may not be able to practice the same level of medicine that they can in a hospital,” says Walker. “So, they may not have the same level of diagnostic or monitoring skills needed to succeed.”
The demands of an extreme environment will push your abilities even further than a traditional hospital setting, making it beneficial to have a strong foundation in patient care, diagnosis, and problem-solving.
Learn From Industry Experts
Make sure any professional training you receive comes from industry experts. Seasoned professionals possess valuable firsthand knowledge and insights into the unique challenges and requirements of this specialized field.
“I would say the broad range of experience within the faculty at Northeastern is key,” Walker states. “Understanding the dynamics from their perspectives is absolutely key.”
In particular, their expertise can provide practical guidance on managing the less technical aspects of the job, such as mindset, teamwork, and adaptability.
“We’re trying to equip students with what will occur most commonly. And what will occur most commonly are human factors and team dynamics,” concludes Walker.
Strengthen Your Physical and Mental Health
Cultivating good mental and physical health will help you navigate the demanding situations and harsh environments of an extreme medicine career. Given the nature of these jobs, maintaining excellent stamina and physical well-being is crucial to ensuring personal safety and effective performance.
“They need to have a good baseline of fitness,” says Walker. To prepare yourself for the rigors of extreme medicine, consider taking survival and endurance training to get acclimated to different environmental conditions.
Handling high-stress scenarios also requires mental resilience and emotional stability. “Practice good mental health by getting good sleep,” Walker advises.
However, professionals should aim for whole-body wellness by fostering healthy nutrition, building stress-reduction techniques, and prioritizing emotional needs. One effective way to do this is by establishing mutually supportive working relationships with colleagues.
“This is important so you can verbalize anything that’s going on with yourself or with the expedition,” Walker adds. “One of the fundamental prerequisites of life is a close community. So, you should seek out a healthy community or steward your own.”
Start a Career in Extreme Medicine
Taking a balanced approach to your preparation of becoming a healthcare provider in extreme medicine will enable you to start off strong in your career. By researching thoroughly, being flexible, and strengthening your mind and body, you will be in the best position to take advantage of a wide range of opportunities.
Getting the right education is also crucial, ensuring you have a well-rounded skill set you can employ in wilderness settings and extreme situations. Northeastern’s Graduate Certificate in Extreme Medicine can provide a foundation in crisis management, humanitarian ethics, situational awareness, and extreme environments.
To learn more about what the program has to offer, contact an admissions counselor to find out how the graduate certificate can further your career goals.