All posts by Kathrine Holte

Offshore rig medic: Some basic information

I worked as a medical doctor for Maersk Drilling on the rig Maersk Deliverer in Angola from 2013-5.

On an offshore rig the position is called a medic. According to local regulations as well as company preferences, the medic can be a nurse, a paramedic or a doctor. Most are, in fact, not doctors.

The drilling contractor: Owns and operates a drilling rig. In my case the drilling contractor was Maersk DrillingThe drilling contractor then hires the staff necessary to run the rig, some directly, others via an agency. I was hired by the agency Vikarlaeger, who again was hired by Maersk Drilling to supply the rig with doctors.
The operator: Owns the right to operate (drill) in a certain area. Hires the drilling contractor to drill a certain well by paying a fixed day-rate as well as additional fees according to a complex contractual system. The relationship between Operator and Drilling contractor is complicated and both hire service companies etc. In my case, the operator was Chevron.
The drilling rig:
 Essentially a machine creating holes in the earth. Rigs come in may different sorts: Some operate on land, some offshore, some stand, some float. I worked on Maersk Deliverer, a semi-submersible drilling rig, a floating rig designed to operate on deep water. A short video of the rig is available on YouTube.

Maersk Deliverer
Maersk Deliverer

The work schedule: Varies from rig to rig. I worked a schedule of 4 weeks on-4 weeks off..

The work: Again, varies according to the company. Generally speaking the tasks may be divided into medical duties and non-medical duties. Depending on local as well as maritime regulations you may or may not be the only medic onboard. Some countries require local medics to be present onboard. I was alone onboard.
I have described a typical working day on the Maersk Deliverer in another post.

Working hours: Normally 6am-6 pm followed by on-call.

General medical duties:
Patient consultations: The majority of patients seen in the sick bay have minor complaints such as common cold or musculoskeletal symptoms. Dental issues are also common. Furthermore malaria was not uncommon among the Angolan employees.
On the Maersk Deliverer, the sick bay is well equipped, however any patient with serious illness would be evacuate onshore. I never had any emergency evacuations, however occasionally a crew member had to be sent off the rig for treatment, the main reason being dental problems and non-work related musculo-skeletal problems.
Day to day running of the sick bay: Ordering medicines and necessary equipment, maintaining logbooks, checking equipment.
Health promotion and hygiene: Adhering to basic principles of hygiene is extremely important when so many people live together in a confined environment. The role of the medic in this context may be to give lectures, put up posters etc. Promoting a healthy lifestyle is another potential focus area for an offshore medic.

A medical support system, where advice may be provided upon request will always be in place. In my case Radio Medical Denmark. Furthermore, Chevron has a clinic in Cabinda. 

The derrick, Maersk Deliverer
The derrick, Maersk Deliverer

Occupational health is a major priority in the industry and offshore safety is a major concern and an important parameter on which company performances are measured. One safety parameter is the number of work-related injuries.  For these purposes, there is sharp administrative division between work-related and non-work related illnesses and as an offshore rig medic you will be involved in discussing and preventing work-related injuries with colleagues onboard.

Additional tasks vary greatly from company to company and may include various tasks related to safety and training issues.
On larger rigs, such as Maersk Deliverer, a safety officer is responsible for all issues related to safety (inductions, meetings, reporting, inspections, prevention, work-place evaluations, etc). Larger rigs may also employ an RSTC (Rig Safety and Training Coordinator) to assist in all safety and training-related issues. On smaller rigs, several of the above job functions may be performed by the rig medic.

Drilling on the Maersk Deliverer
Drilling on the Maersk Deliverer

Additional tasks: Maersk Deliverer had two safety officers as well as one RSTC employed, thus I did not have many additional tasks. I did have a few however:

  1. Daily and weekly tests of the drinking water. Fresh water is made onboard with a fresh-water generator.
  2. Weekly safety inspections: A tour of the entire rig checking eyewash stations  ear plugs, first aid equipment and AEDs.
  3. Weekly hygiene inspection of the galley and cabins with the Camp Boss.
  4. Weekly safety drills: Drills involving the entire rig with scenario such as fire, toxic gas outlet etc. This is an opportunity to train the stretcher team: Four crew members assigned to assist the medic in emergencies, including, but not limited to carrying a stretcher.
  5. Being a medical doctor I had the additional task of completing DMA Medical Certificates for the crew.

I have described a typical day at work in a separate post.

Specific offshore requirements for a medic: Required certificates vary according to the rig location and the drilling contractor. In my case: OPITO (BOSIET) (offshore safety course) including HUET, OGUK and a DMA Medical Examination.

Offshore vocabulary:  Be prepared to learn a complete new terminology and an astonishingly high number of abbreviations.

Online information sources:
Offshore rig medic jobs
A photogallery from my time as an offshore rig medic is available on flickr.

Greece: Working with boat migrants and refugees

In November 2015, I went to Lesvos, Greece, loosely associated with the NGO Positive Action, who arranged for accomodation and provided some local contacts. I soon found that, as a medical doctor, Moria Camp was the most relevant place to be, and I subsequently worked in an interimistic tent/emergency room set-up with other volunteers, who spontaneously arrived and offered their services,

09:00 It is olive harvesting season and I  liberate my car from under a huge net meant to catch the olives from the trees in the parking. I share a house just outside Molyvos on the north coast of Lesvos with two other volunteers, respiratory therapists from the United States, who mainly work on the north coast, where the boats come in from Turkey

09:10 On my way to Moria Camp, I pass an interimistic  camp. 50 people, who had arrived by boats during the night waited for busses to the transit camps. The ocean is at its smallest here, but nevertheless treacherous to cross. I can see Turkey in the distance: This is the border of Europe. An astonishing thought.

Refugee boat arriving on Lesvos
Refugee boat arriving on Lesvos

10:00 I arrive at Moria.  Colleagues are already at work examining patients, who queue outside the tent. Staffed with specialized emergency physicians as well as nurses spontaneously volunteering from both US, Canada and England, the medical staff was highly competent. Not to forget the non-medical volounteers who constructed the tent, helped organize the supplies, organized clothing for the people etc. However, many patients do not speak English. That seems to be the main issue right now. I then begin the day by walking around the hill looking for translators: Farsi-English was the priority as the Arab-speaking Syrians were quickly registered in the system, and thus left for mainland Greece sooner than the other nationalities.

Treating patients at Moria Camp
Treating patients at Moria Camp

10:30 I had succeeded finding three volunteer translators, all waiting to have their arrival officially registered: A 21-yr old woman from Afghanistan, a 20-year old man, also from Afghanistan and another 20-yr man from Iran. Female translators were in particularly high demand, for cultural reasons.

11:00 I start to see patients. Most have minor illnesses, mainly  common cold and many ask for antibiotics. Tooth problems are another major issue, for which we as medical doctors can do little but dispense painkillers. Our pharmacy was remarkably well supplied as several volunteers had brought medicines with them from their home countries. Furthermore, complete strangers would come by and donate medicines while others would buy medicines according to a list made by some of my colleagues at the local pharmacy.

Dentist at work at Moria Camp
Dentist at work at Moria Camp

12:00 A 20-year old Afghan male arrived with severely burned fingers, which he explained happened when lighting a campfire in Turkey. Luckily our extraordinarily well-stocked pharmacy had the items needed to treat him.

12:30 Out of the blue, two dentists from Bulgaria arrived with their equipment. They installed themselves on a plastic table right outside our tent and started working.  This first day they performed five tooth extractions.

Moria Transit Camp, Lesvos
Moria Transit Camp, Lesvos

14:00 A young man, paralyzed from the lower neck and down arrived in a wheelchair pushed by his brother. The young man had been paralyzed for 11 years after he broke his neck falling down from a rock. The told me they had made the long journey from Afghanistan hoping his brother could be cured in Germany.

16:00 I left Moria and drove up to the North Coast. It was a quiet afternoon and I chatted with volunteers from some of the other groups.

19:00 A big boat with more than 200 migrants arrived at the harbor of a small fishing village as I drove by on my way home. I went out to have a look, but all seemed fine.

Treating boat migrants during night on Lesvos
Treating boat migrants during night on Lesvos