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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Why I chose… Working in travel medicine

Dr Mike Townend, an independent travel health adviser, explains how why he left general practice for his discipline

Name Dr Mike Townend

Title Former GP. Currently independent travel health adviser and writer and lecturer on global and travel health.

Location Millhouse, Cumbria

Background

For many years I was a GP in the English Lake District, spending much of my spare time walking, climbing or taking part in mountain rescue. In 1974 I went on my first expedition to the Himalaya, travelling overland in a Land Rover to India. This experience opened my eyes to the many and varied health problems associated with travel abroad, ranging from infectious and tropical diseases to high altitude physiology. Over the years I studied these problems extensively and took part in further expeditions. Eventually I began to lead adventure holiday groups, with activities such as mountain trekking and white water rafting.

As my experience of travel increased, I found that climbers and other travellers began to beat a path to my surgery door, and I developed a travel clinic and yellow fever vaccination centre in my practice. When the Diploma in Travel Medicine was introduced in 1996 in Glasgow, I was one of its first graduates and went on to teach on that and many other subsequent courses, eventually being elected a Fellow of the Faculty of Travel Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow when it was founded in 2006.

What I do

I left general practice in 2000 to pursue my fellowship and other interests full time. I was a founder member of the British Travel Health Association (now the British Global and Travel Health Association) 15 years ago and have served on its executive committee for most of that time.

Advantages

Travel health is an enormous subject taking something from almost all other medical disciplines. This not only makes it extremely varied but also gives me the opportunity to travel to some of the most interesting places in the world. I have been privileged to take part in activities ranging from the first ascent of a previously unclimbed Himalayan peak to working in a mother and child health clinic in remote rural Nepal, visiting traditional medical facilities in Tibet, Bhutan and South America and advising a multinational corporation on malaria prevention.

Travel health provides a wide variety of work. Every journey and every traveller are different and so are their needs, and a wide knowledge of many areas of medicine is necessary.

It can easily be integrated into a career in general practice but can also become one’s main area of work.

Challenges

Studying for a postgraduate qualifications while running a busy practice was a challenge, and even after qualifying it was tricky to find ways of taking time out from the practice to attend courses and international conferences, to travel and to teach. Since becoming a freelance this is no longer a problem.

Another challenge is keeping up to date with a wide body of knowledge and with conditions in many areas of the world. Fortunately electronic communications now make this much easier.

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