- Published on March 11, 2010
In her youth, Joanne Feldman, MD, never dreamed of becoming a physician. Rather, she grew up in Southern California and fell in love with the sea. She loved to teach, and figured that combining her enthusiasm for the environment with education was a good mix. Accordingly, Jo pursued both a BS and MS degree in Environmental Education and subsequently took a position as a Park Ranger Naturalist at Sequioa National Park in the Sierras of California. What she had not counted on was that her surroundings would foster in her an interest in wilderness medicine.
To scratch this itch, she embarked on training to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). As such, in her second year as a Park Ranger she served as an EMT on the Search and Rescue team at Sequioa. Figuring that the medical needs of the public might be in even higher demand at other national parks, she targeted the one national park that has the greatest need for medical expertise. You guessed it, the Grand Canyon. Who hasn’t stood at the South Rim and read those warning signs at the trail heads, the ones that read “Beware! Dangerous steep trail. Heat stroke a real possibility!” Needless to say, when Joanne positioned herself at the base of the trail on the floor of the canyon, she had plenty of eager customers. Somewhat surprisingly, one of the most common medical conditions she treated was “hyponathemia”. OK, get out your medical dictionary. Essentially, this means low salt levels in the blood, a potentially dangerous scenario, and the result of simply drinking too much water. Joanne loved working with people and treating their ailments. She had fallen in love with medicine, despite her vow not follow in her father’s footsepts as an MD.
Applying and gaining entrance to medical school in your mid-30s is not a trivial endeavor. I know this, as a Professor of Biology I have interviewed undergraduate students for entrance into medical school. Joanne had to return to college to take chemistry, mathematics, and physics. But her hard work paid off and she was accepted to medical school at the University of California at San Francisco. After accepting her mother’s invitation to hike with her to Mount Everest base camp (don’t we all want mothers like that!), she moved on to a residency in Emergency Medicine at Stanford University. Following the completion of her Stanford intership, she remained on for another year of training in marine medicine. Yes, that’s right, “marine medicine”. This is where one is trained in the medical treatment of injuries related to the sea, including barometric medicine, or the treatment of diving related illnesses.
In 2006, Dr. Jo signed up as the MD about a cruise ship headed to the Antarctic Peninsula. Two back to back Antarctic cruises later, she was hooked on this frozen continent. But before returning, her path returned her to the family home on Malibu Beach where she landed a great job in the Emergency Room of the UCLA Hospital. She also doubled as the physician for a local Hyperbaric Facility. But when Antarctic came a knocking, she was quick to negotiate a leave of absence from UCLA and assume her current eight-month contract as the physician here at Palmer Station. She loves it here! (Check out her video tour of the Palmer medical clinic by clicking on the YouTube link in the lower right corner of this web page). In addition to taking care of all of us, she also checks up regularly on all sorts of things including the hot tub water quality, refrigeration and food temperatures, eye wash stations, and the quality of our drinking water. If that were not enough she is in charge of the Trauma Team, a group of folks on station that are trained to respond to a medical emergency. They are the ones that would transport a needy traumatized patient to her clinic, assist her with IVs, contact specialist doctors in the US via a remote internet based live-video feed, and generally provide extra pairs of hands. Dr. Jo is also a member of the GSAR team (Glacier Search and Rescue) which trains regularly and provides a safety net for those out on glacier for science or recreation. Moreover, one of her goals is to also become a member of the OSAR team (Ocean Search and Rescue). Indeed, she seems to have boundless energy! I can vouch for that, because I see her in the gym every morning at 5:40 facilitating a physical fitness class!
Outside of practicing medicine in Antarctica, Joanne enjoys it here because it has given her time to truly experience the ebb and flow of the Antarctic seasons. Her eyes twinkle when she describes the delight of watching the penguins arrive to build their nests, lay their eggs, raise their young, and then depart. She appreciates the luxury of walking slowly along the rocky shores, observing the behaviors of foraging leopard and crabeater seals. And there is joy in taking wildlife and landscape photos at her leisure. These sorts of experiences are far beyond the bounds of visiting Antarctica on a cruise ship, and they separate true Antarcticans from visitors.