Imagine being in the middle of nowhere, with limited access to resources and colleagues, but needing to solve a medical crisis.

That’s the reality Dr. James McKeith, Director and Chief Medical Officer of the UTMB Health Center for Polar Medical Operations (CPMO) faces regularly while working in Antarctica.

“We don't have CT scanners or MRIs. We have a limited formulary, and it takes us months to get supplies to Antarctica,” Dr. McKeith said. “We don't have full staff, primarily because it costs money and it takes up bed space. To accommodate that, we train our people to take X-rays. We bring on people that we hope have ultrasound experience. We train them to run all the lab equipment. We train civilians without a medical background, usually, to augment our capabilities for seriously ill patients.”

Designed to provide clinicians and medical screenings to participants of the National Science Foundation’s U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), the CPMO is integral in enabling vital scientific research to take place in some of the most remote places on earth.

The CPMO is also key for helping UTMB Health Aerospace Medicine residents prepare for caring for individuals facing similarly extreme conditions—astronauts. With a vastness and desolation comparable to space, Antarctica has proven to be an ideal location for this hands-on training.

Engineered to prepare its residents to care for those embarking on spaceflight, the UTMB Health Aerospace Medicine program is led by Dr. Ronak Shah. Shah recognizes and appreciates the value students get from their time training and learning on the ice.

“Every rotation or training experience serves a purpose, and space is a very unique environment in which to practice medicine,” Dr. Shah said. “Some of the skills required to be proficient in this job are analogous to the skills one will learn by training in an extreme environment like Antarctica. Examples could include navigating team dynamics in these extreme environments, the impacts of isolation, and the need to think and perform in a multidisciplinary capacity. All the aforementioned are things that are translatable.”

Working together as a team in an extreme environment such as Antarctica or in space can be vastly different from how a team of clinicians might work in a normal hospital or clinic setting as Dr. Craig Kutz, an Aerospace Medicine resident at UTMB, knows first-hand.

“There's certain countermeasures that we as physicians in extreme environments have to consider to take care of patients in these settings,” he said.

Even caring for routine ailments or illnesses can be challenging in these spaces due to resource limitations, Dr. Kutz said.

From braving the cold in Antarctica to the intense cold and high altitude of Mount Everest, individuals practicing medicine in these climates has helped produce data that may influence and inform how health care is handled on future NASA missions to the moon and Mars.

While this work may seem to pertain to a very specific sect of individuals, it’s actually germane to all, as the knowledge garnered through providing care in extreme environments helps paint a more holistic picture of the full human experience. And that’s exactly why the Aerospace Medicine Program is situated in the UTMB Health School of Public and Population Health. The work they champion every day lends a broader understanding of how people react to varying treatments and medications in varying climates and environments.

Learn more about the UTMB Health Aerospace Medicine program and the Center for Polar Medical Operations online.

The above story was produced by Community Impact's Senior Multi Platform Journalist Sierra Rozen with information solely provided by the local business as part of its "sponsored content" purchase through our advertising team.