Sarah Marquis Great Victoria Desert Trek


Ever wondered what it’s like to live and work in one of the most remote and extreme environments on Earth? Well, prepare to be intrigued as we delve into the extraordinary experiences of Dr. Jessie Ling, a station doctor stationed in Antarctica. From battling sub-zero temperatures to providing medical care in isolation, Dr. Ling’s journey offers a unique perspective on life at the edge of the world.

In this exclusive Q&A session, we sat down with Dr. Ling to uncover the challenges, adventures, and moments of wonder that come with being a medical professional in Antarctica.

Join us as we explore the icy landscapes and the remarkable human stories that unfold in this frozen continent, offering a glimpse into a world few have the privilege to witness firsthand.

1. How did this opportunity come about? Had you been planning on this for a while or did it just pop up?

I was fortunate to have a John Flynn Placement Program scholarship with the Australian Antarctic Division Polar Medicine Unit when I was studying Medicine at University so have known some of the team for many years. I applied to work here around 18 months ago once I had finished specialty training in General Practice and had some remote experience under my belt. My Dad worked in Antarctica as a field Training Officer in the 90s, so I had grown up hearing about his adventures and had always wanted to come down myself.

2. What does the daily routine look like for you?

Every day is completely different here which is what I love. Days always start with coffee and a few hours of medical clinic and then I could be out in the field training, water testing, monthly quality testing on all our machines here, attending meetings, helping with community duties or a myriad of other things. I always get outside for a ski, run or wharf stroll each day as the landscape is phenomenally beautiful.

3. Looks like you’ve been busy doing some cool things in your first month there, what has been your favourite adventure so far?

It’s hard to pick one – my favourite place has been visiting Browning Peninsula where you can get amazing views of elephant seals and the Vanderford glacier. Running a marathon here with a group of friends was a personal highlight of the summer.

Sarah Marquis solo walk from Kalgoorlie to Warburton

Some of the team in Antarctica

4. What are the average temperatures you are experiencing day to day?

While I’ve been here temperatures have varied from about -20 degrees at the coldest to 2-3 degrees on the warmest days. The windchill factor can change how that temperature feels dramatically though.

5. What were your first impressions upon arriving in Antarctica, and how did they
compare to your expectations?

I was blown away by the beauty of the landscape and to finally realise a long- held dream. Our station is on the coast and when I arrived everything was
covered in snow, the sea ice was frozen over and there were massive icebergs scattered across the horizon. The magnificence of this unique landscape never gets old.

6. Starting off with survival training, can you share your initial reactions and challenges faced during those few days of outdoor bivvying and fieldwork?
What surprised you the most?

Controversial opinion but I LOVED survival training – a 24 hour initial field training for anyone to travel outside of station limits. With our amazing Field Training Officers we do basic navigation and survival skills training and sleep out in a fluro yellow bivvy bag on the ice on a very thin mat. It was still very cold when I did my training though the novelty of bivvying out in Antarctica watching a magical sunset was very special. I’ve always spent time outdoors so always feel happy and at ease in that environment. One of the weirdest skills required for field toileting is you have to urinate and defecate into separate containers (ie you can’t wee and poo at the same time) so that takes some practice!

7. Transitioning from training to actual station life, what adjustments did you have to make in your medical approach and mindset when dealing with the unique challenges of Antarctica?

Practicing medicine in Australia you normally wouldn’t socialise with your patients. In remote communities, like Antarctica, your patients are your friends, colleagues, the people you sit across to from dinner, head out for a social ski with and have a morning cuppa with. It’s a unique situation. I make clear delineations between social and work times and ensure that everyone thoroughly understands medical confidentiality, so everyone feels safe and supported to discuss their issues and know their privacy is respected.

Sarah Marquis solo walk from Kalgoorlie to Warburton

An Elephant Seal in Browning Peninsula

8. Antarctica is known for its isolation. How do you manage the psychological aspects of being in such a remote location, both for yourself and potentially for your colleagues and co-workers?

Antarctica is one of the most isolated and extreme environments in the world. Over winter the isolation and lack of sunlight can contribute to significant challenges for people. However, over the summer station is a busy, bustling place and a lot of us found the bigger challenge was trying to find some alone time. We have been lucky to have an incredibly cohesive and lovely crew on station so every day there are lots of options such as group yoga, movies, gym sessions, ski loop sessions, science talks, dress-up parties etc.

9. What are the most common tasks you undertake as a station doctor in Antarctica?

Running medical clinic to support expeditioners mental and physical health, keeping the large medical clinic functioning, clean and stocked, monthly checking of all our various machines, water testing, helping with medical training for other expeditioners and the station Search and Rescue Teams, attending various leadership meetings, partaking in station duties (such as “slushie”), scientific research projects with various space and medical organisations just to name a few. We end up having many varied roles that you wouldn’t normally expect as a doctor, though it’s a very collaborative community environment here so everyone pitches in with everything.

Sarah Marquis solo walk from Kalgoorlie to Warburton

Running a Marathon in Antarctica with Jessie Ling

10. Antarctica offers a unique environment for scientific research. Have you had any opportunities to collaborate with researchers or participate in projects outside of your medical role?

There is a lot of interesting research happening on station across a multitude of areas addressing greater understanding of climate change and the Antarctic environment. The main research project I’ve been part of this summer has been a ButterflyIQPlus Ultrasound research project collaborating with TRISH (Translational Research Institute for Space Health), NASA (National Aeronautical and Space Association), AAD (Australian Antarctic Division) and CARMM (Centre for Antarctic, Remote and Maritime Medicine) where we have been utilising Antarctica as a space analogue to trial diagnostic ultrasound protocols that will hopefully be used by astronauts in space and inform remote healthcare on Earth.

11. Living and working in Antarctica must come with some unusual routines. What’s the weirdest or most unique daily habit or ritual you’ve developed to cope with the conditions and demands of station life?

None of the walls are very soundproof here on station so, to be a considerate community member, everyone very delicately closes doors and drawers and avoids playing music etc in their rooms. It’s amazing how much doors shutting can reverberate through walls and really wear people down! Most of the routines I utilise to manage station demands are carried through from home including running, yoga, meditation, time in nature and social time with friends.

All images are thanks to Dr. Jessie Ling

For more Q&A sessions with other Gutsy Girls, see HERE and HERE