When you can’t just phone 999…

Phil Keating gives us a run-down of what life is like as an Offshore Medic – when you’re the only doctor, dentist and all-round medical support for several thousand miles… 

My job on board is to look after the scientists and crew if the have any medical needs. This can be anything from coughs and sneezes, to broken bones or dental problems.
It is my responsibility to ensure that everyone on board receives the same level of medical care that they would receive at home. To achieve this the crew and scientists come and visit me, in the same way they would a GP, Dentist, or Paramedic at home.

On-board the ship i have a full pharmacy with all of the drugs and medicines that i could possibly need. I have an ECG machine to check peoples hearts and drugs to treat the heart if it has a problem.


I also have a specialism in prolonged field care. Unlike at home where you call an ambulance,it arrives in 8 minutes and takes you to hospital within another 30 minutes, If we have an incident on board ship, we are potentially 5 days from the nearest hospital. My specialism in prolonged care means i can provide intensive care level of treatment for my patient, and care for them in my hospital on board the ship before we get to a mainland hospital.

As we are also potentially 5 days from a Dentist, i am trained to carry out minor dental procedures such as replace a filling or extract a tooth. This is all part of the training on my offshore medics course, where we are also taught to give injections and carry out minor procedures such as stitching wounds. I have a satellite phone to talk to a consultant Doctor on the phone in case I need a second opinion an an injury or unusual illness.

Fortunately on this trip we have been light on medical issues. Another of my day-to-day roles on-board is to ensure that all my medicines, drugs and equipment are in good condition and within their expiry date. On top of this i am also responsible for carrying out first aid training for the crew, which includes CPR and defib training.

Some of the scientists are using some dangerous chemicals in their experiments, so another of my responsibilities is to have all of the information on each of the chemicals so i know how to treat someone if they have a spill. I also make sure that any antidotes that are required for the specific chemicals are stored correctly and in date.

The kitchen party act as my stretcher carriers on board the ship, so once a week i will do a training session with them and run a scenario with a mock casualty. This ensures that they get lots of practice, so when they are needed they can perform the duties really well.

I began my medical training whilst in the military, and i am also a commercial diver medic. My usual place of work is on offshore oil rigs or offshore wind farms. These types of projects also need a medic due to their remote location and lack of availability of a land based hospital team or ambulance service to reach our remote location in time to help a patient.

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