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Extreme study

Dr Jan Wallace completed a Master of Public Health (Remote and Polar Health) whilst working in Antarctica.

For Jan Wallace, an office in Antarctica was the perfect place to complete the University of Tasmania’s Master of Public Health - after all, there are fewer distractions on the frozen continent.

Jan has been a doctor for 36 years, with a particular specialisation in healthcare in remote and extreme environments. Part of her job sees her working in Antarctica for the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).

There’s no triple zero down there. We are the fire brigade, we are the search and rescue service. These are ordinary people. Plumbers, mechanics, chefs.

“We ask people to step right outside their normal environments and take on these emergency services roles

“There’s a lot of professional challenges and psychological challenges to get into that mindset that you have to be prepared to meet any situation that might occur.

You’re thinking, ‘do I really have what it takes to be an Antarctic doctor or expeditioner? Have I got the right stuff?’

Dr Jan Wallace in Antarctica.

“But I like to be challenged. I’m quite happy to go into a slightly unknown situation and work and live.”

Jan heard about the Master of Public Health through the AAD’s Chief Medical Officer who was involved in the Remote and Polar Health Stream course development.

While Jan was already well versed in the polar and remote medicine aspects of the course, what really got her attention was the content on public health.

“I learned a lot about the overarching role of public health in a global context. It certainly broadened my knowledge of what I believe public health to be and its importance to health equity across populations.

“One of the electives with Dr Kim Norris, Human Behaviour in Extreme Environments, I found very interesting, and it was very relevant to have more psychological insights into that area.”

Jan’s Master’s thesis was designed to feed valuable knowledge back into the AAD. She investigated the first aid capabilities of contemporary Antarctic expeditioners, and their perceptions of their abilities to respond to emergencies in Antarctica.

“I found that the higher the level of training, the more competent people felt. If they had been called upon to provide first aid in the past, they felt more confident, regardless of the training they had.”

And you don’t have to be a doctor in Antarctica to benefit from the Master of Public Health.

“I absolutely recommend the course.

The things that you learn are so transferrable into other areas. It could be in a warzone, post natural disaster, or in a remote area. For people looking to work in those areas, it’s a great course.

Jan said students studying in more conventional environments might have to allocate slightly more time to study than she did.

I had the luxury of having more time available in Antarctica. After all, you don’t have to go out shopping, so I got through it relatively quickly.

Find out more about the University of Tasmania's Master of Public Health here.