Around Thule Air Base

Working as a doctor on Thule Air Base

Thule Air Base is a strange place: The northernmost US Air Force base, located on top of Greenland and close to the historical settlement Dundas, which served as base camp for several famous polar explorers such as Robert E Peary and Matthew Henson as well as Knud Rasmussen who founded a trade station here and named it Thule. The original Thule trade station was moved and now serves as the museum building in the modern settlement of Qaanaaq, on the other side of the fiord. Upon establishment of the Thule Air Base in the 1950s, the original inuit population were forcefully evacuated to the present day village of Qaanaaq, causing ongoing lawsuits for decades until the matter was finally settled by the Danish Supreme Court in 2003.

Thule Air Base
Thule Air Base

In brief, the main purpose of the Thule Air Base is to support the Thule Radar, a part of the BMEWS system to detect a missile attack against the United States.

Around 600 people live on the base, 150 from the US military, the remaining 450 being service personnel, mainly from Denmark and Greenland. The service contract with the Thule Air Base is with the company Greenland Contractors, who hires the doctors (in my case via an Agency). This service contract is currently (2016) the center of a major controversy.

Thule Air Base
Thule Air Base

Two doctors are permanently stationed on the base, one needs surgical skills. However, I did not have to use mine as the work is centered around general medicine including health certificates and administrative reports. There were no emergencies the month I was there. The closest was a call from a captain on a Lufthansa flight located right over the North Pole presenting a patient had abdominal pain. In the end it was decided that emergency landing at the base was not indicated. Though not part of the health care system in Greenland, Thule Air Base doctors and authorities will nevertheless assist with medical evacuations from nearby settlement Qaanaaq if needed.

My office

As a doctor you are provided with a car with a compulsory driving test at the base. I had a small apartment within the medical building/hospital ward, with no admissions during my time there. There is a small convenience store. The Top of the World Club (a bar/restaurant). And a fitness center. I was on Thule Air Base in August. The sun was never down and I covered the windows with plastic foil during the night.

Dundas

The scenery is spectacular with ~20 km road to drive on outside the base. One of these goes up to the Thule Radar. And despite many visits to Greenland, this is the only time I have actually been standing on the Inland Ice. I climbed the iconic Dundas mountain and visited the old Dundas inuit village. And lastly, I visited Alert, the Canadian base, located only 817 km from the North Pole.

Around Thule Air Base

Other posts on Greenland:
Working as a doctor in Greenland; Some basic facts.
Doctor in Qaanaaq: 24 hours on call.
Medical visit to Siorapaluk, the northernmost settlement in Greenland.
Nanortalik: 24 hours on call.

A photogallery of my time as a doctor on Thule Air Base is available on flickr.

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