Why I chose… mountain medicine
Dr Adam Booth explains how he combines research into altitude pathophysiology with a career as a GP
Name: Dr Adam Booth
Title: GP and researcher into physical effects of high altitude climbing
Location of practice: Jiggins Lane Medical Centre, Birmingham, and the University of Birmingham
I’ve been a climber since before I started my medical degree. Initially I found that medicine got in the way of climbing - it seemed hard to get into the mountains when I was so busy all the time. However, as a final year medical student I saw the potential for combining my love of the mountains with a career in medicine whilst on an altitude research conference hosted by the Birmingham Medical Research and Expeditionary Society (BMRES). There were lots of doctors at the conference who had used their interest in altitude research as a way of getting into the hills, so I saw that it was possible.
I joined this research group as soon as I became a junior doctor and never looked back. In 2008, as a GP trainee, I went to Chile with the BMRES, my first ‘mountain medicine’ expedition. As well as being the deputy medical officer (a great experience at that stage in my career) and helping with some really worthwhile altitude research, we climbed the beautiful mountain of Parinacota. This trip cemented the realisation that it was not only possible to combine time in the mountains with medicine, but that they actually complement each other very well.
Since my first trip to Chile I have completed the diploma in mountain medicine and been elected onto the faculty, been on a further research expedition with the London based group, CASE (Centre For Altitude Space and Extreme Environments), acted as the lead doctor on two major mountaineering expeditions, set up a special study module at the University of Birmingham, and started to teach wilderness medicine weekends regularly.
In May 2013 I took a two-month sabbatical from work and climbed Mount Everest on the 60th anniversary of the first ascent. All of this has been done alongside my career as a GP.
Why I chose mountain medicine
Being in a mountain environment poses specific medical challenges. Whether it’s the altered physiology of high altitude, the potential for trauma, or just the fact that you’re in a remote area, the potential for medical research - particularly altitude pathophysiology - is huge. For those of us in the medical profession who enjoy being in the mountains, it seems a natural progression to combine this with the skills we have gained in our medical careers.
With ever increasing pressures in general practice, I find it really important to get the right work-life balance. For me, mountain medicine helps with this and this is one of the main reasons I think it’s a great thing to do.
As well as this, I love the variety that mountain medicine offers – it encompasses things like altitude research, mountain rescue, expedition medicine, teaching medical students, travel medicine, working in mountain clinics (for example the Himalayan Rescue Association), working on the diploma in mountain medicine, and advising trekking and climbing companies.
The main drawback to mountain medicine is that it often doesn’t pay well – for most people this is balanced by how much they enjoy doing it. There are some situations where mountain medicine work is paid well but they seem to be quite few and far between.
Also, there may be times when working in the mountain environment takes over your own personal goals, for example an expedition doctor may be forced to miss the summit push whilst looking after a sick team member.
It is not everyone’s cup of tea. Mountains can be hostile places and sometimes can be dangerous, so this is not something to be entered into without serious consideration. But despite these challenges, for any doctor interested in mountain medicine, I would wholeheartedly recommend it.