Doctors from around the world participate in Hyperbaric Medical Course on Ambergris Caye
Monday, April 27th, 2015
56 doctors from around the world converged on the island for a six-day course in hyperbaric medicine. The course is being offered in partnership with the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) and the Divers Alert Network (DAN) with assistance from the local San Pedro Hyperbaric Chamber Clinic. The course’s main objective is to increase physicians’ knowledge in hyperbaric chamber medicine as well as to review their skills on ways to better assess the health and well-being of potential divers.
Cindi Easterling has been the Course Coordinator for the UHMS-DAN continuing medical education (CME) program for over 25 years. According to Easterling, during the six-day course, doctors go through daily four-hour intense lectures imparted by some of the best, internationally-renowned physicians. She said, “Doctors gain infinite knowledge because we bring in internationally renowned physicians from around the world. Some of the doctors are internationally known specialists and professors and we share knowledge. Having knowledge in hyperbaric medicine can only increase a doctor’s ability to give better patient-care. It also allows them to be a part of a network from around the world in which you become a part of a group of physicians that you can call if you need more information and further consultation.”
Hyperbaric medicine does not only entail treating patients for dive related complications and decompression sickness, but can be used for more than 15 areas in medical treatment. “Hyperbaric medicine is not just for diving. It can also be used for wound care, diabetics and so forth; so it is more than just for diving,” added Easterling. Amongst the many treatments hyperbaric chamber is used for is to treat decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, flesh eating bacteria treatment, diabetic split wounds and treatment for radiation scarring for cancer survivors.
One of the lecturers for the course is Dr. James Holm, President of UHMS. Holm is a Specialist in Hyperbaric Medicine and is the Medical Director at the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine at Virginia Mason Only Hospital and the Seattle Medical Center in the United States. According to Holm, because the approach of practicing medicine changes from time to time, it is important for doctors to constantly be familiar with more modern approaches. “30 years ago, there were no lectures about decompression sickness and on hyperbaric or diving medicine… now there is some training but very little. So these courses are reaching out to doctors, nurses and medical technicians to educate them. These courses are not just for doctors we bring from abroad, but we involve doctors at the sites where we go to conduct these courses. Hyperbaric and diving medicine are constantly changing so it is important that even if you have done it before, doctors would want to update their skills,” said Dr. Holm.
According to Holm, some of the doctors taking the hyperbaric medical course have never seen a hyperbaric chamber and as such, partnering with local hyperbaric clinics gives the doctors hands on experience. “They get to see and look at how these chambers operate,” said Holm.
He added, “During the course, we also look at how to medically evaluate people who want to go diving. We are not finding as much younger people learning to dive. We are seeing older people, and as we get older we have other complications, so then we evaluate them to see if they are healthy enough and physically able to dive or not. These older potential divers need to know what the risks are so doctors will be able to do a better assessment.”
Easterling indicating that for diving destinations such as Ambergris Caye, having a hyperbaric chamber makes it a plus, because it makes the place safer to do recreational diving. “Places like San Pedro, where there is a lot of recreational diving going on, things can go wrong, there is no way you can tell when a diving accident can happen. And because there are a lot of doctors who don’t have much experience in hyperbaric medicine, workshops like these provide doctors with the adequate knowledge to be better prepared in cases of a diving accident. They will be able to do a better assessment and refer patients to the local hyperbaric chamber.”
The San Pedro Hyperbaric Chamber clinic has been in operation for almost 30 years and is the only chamber in Belize. It is a member of the worldwide SSS Recompression Chamber Network. During the event, lecturers took the opportunity to acknowledge the high standards that the local chamber has been living up to. “I must say that this island has a local chamber that has raised the bar of standards for hyperbaric medicine in the region. It is at par with similar chambers in the US and Europe,” indicated Holm during a special event hosted by Mauricio Moreno of the San Pedro Hyperbaric Chamber Clinic. At the event, Moreno took the opportunity to recognize Antonia Guerrero for her more than 25 years of service at the head of the local chamber.
Others lecturers at the course included Dr. Neal Pollock, the Research Director at Divers Alert Network, a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology at Duke University Medical Center, and a member of the Board of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences Foundation; Dr Kraus Torp, Anesthesiologist and Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville Florida and is on the American Board of Preventive Medicine – Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine. and Dr Simon Mitchell Simon Mitchell, Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand and a specialist in occupational medicine, hyperbaric medicine and anesthesiology. Mitchell’s credentials includes the former Vice President of UHMS, is widely published and has 104 publications including books, text book chapters, scientific journal articles and workshop proceedings.
The course ended on Friday April 24th.