Exploring Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine

January 3, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Undersea and Hyperbaric medicine can be an exciting specialty option for anyone who loves to be in and around the water and is also keen on pursuing a career in the field of medicine. Undersea and Hyperbaric medicine is an aerospace-related field of medicine that basically addresses the health and safety of the diving community. Over the past few years, the need for medical professionals with training in underwater and hyperbaric medicine has increased tremendously in order to keep up with the massive surge in professional underwater activities, as well as recreational and sport activities such as scuba diving, wreck diving and deep sea diving.

As a physician trained in Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine you will be dealing with a unique range of illnesses and health conditions, primarily those that are associated with hyperbaric oxygen (HBO). Some of the conditions you will be dealing with include decompression sickness, gas embolism, diving accidents, carbon monoxide poisoning, tissue damage, the healing of problem wounds and bone infections.  

St Lucia in the CaribbeanEveryday responsibilities for professionals in this field vary considerably depending upon the specific geographical location of the hyperbaric chamber. Hyperbaric specialists who are located in coastal regions will typically treat a larger number of divers, whereas those who are located more inland will find themselves treating non-healing wounds more commonly.

There are also several opportunities for specialists in this field to serve as consultants in all aspects of hyperbaric chamber operations including the assessment of risks and application of appropriate standards to prevent disability and disease in divers and other individuals working in altered atmospheric conditions.

Where to find training for Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine

Medical students interested in this specialty usually obtain their formal training through a fellowship either in civilian chamber facilities or within the military.

The US Air Force conducts a 1-year fellowship in Undersea and Hyperbaric medicine. To be eligible for this program you have to be an active duty or reserve physicians in the US or international military and you should have completed at least one accredited residency program. This facility also sponsors formal training programs and rotations for medical students, technicians and nurses who are affiliated to the US or international military.

Sunset on Gangilonga Rock, TanzaniaThe U.S. Navy provides hyperbaric medicine training to physicians at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Florida. Those who complete this course receive certification as Hyperbaric Medicine Advisors. The U.S. Navy also offers a three-year residency in Undersea Medicine at the Naval Undersea Medical Institute in Connecticut.

Besides the Navy and the Air Force, there are several civilian academic chambers that offer rotations and fellowship experiences for interested health professions from varied backgrounds. Some organizations provide focused courses that address various applications of high pressure oxygen therapy. Topics that these courses cover range from basic introductory courses in hyperbaric therapy to advanced transcutaneous oxygen monitoring.

To ensure that for specialists in undersea and hyperbaric medicine keep up with the many advancements that are continually being made in this field, the American Board of Preventive Medicine (ABPM) recently put in place an accreditation examination for professionals in this field. This examination is currently held annually.