How to get into Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine
Dr Doug Watts, Medical Director, DDRC Healthcare
Many of us have always wanted to combine diving and our medical work, and Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine is a chance to do this.
Others are drawn to the area due to the interesting physics and physiology, or the unusual patient mix. Or perhaps you’re involved in Occupational Medicine and need to perform medicals for divers or compressed air workers?
On this page I’ll try and explain the different ways to develop a career in Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine.
I’m a junior doctor / medical student with a general interest
For many of us the interest in combining diving and medicine starts early on in our careers! Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine is an area which is rapidly developing and you’ll find a supportive and friendly bunch of us who want to support new doctors to the speciality.
Firstly, try and get lots of diving experience. Diving can be an expensive hobby – it can often be done at lower cost via your local BSAC club or if you’re a medical student with long summer holidays via a PADI Divemaster internship. If you can experience diving in lots of different conditions and perhaps different kit then you’ll have a better understanding of what our patients are talking about and what can potentially go wrong.
If you’re a medical student consider whether you might do your medical elective at a hyperbaric chamber in in the UK or overseas. At DDRC we often have medical students for electives and this gives a good taster in diving and hyperbaric medicine. Other BHA chambers might also be able to accommodate you.
The next step is to get a bit of formal training. This can start with something like a taster day (We run one of these at DDRC annually) or the Diving Expedition Medicine course. The next step is the RCSEd and then DMAC courses – more details about these courses are on the junior doctor opportunities page.
All along the way keep an eye on the BHA website for news about whats going on and think about following your local chamber on social media to hear about other opportunities. The Joseph Priestly essay prize is an excellent opportunity for a medical student or junior doctor interested in getting published.
If you think you want to invest more time and get some hands on experience you can contact your local chamber to find out if you can work with them, initially perhaps in an observatory capacity.
There are also some more formal jobs. In August 2023 DDRC will be offering the first Foundation Year 2 role in Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine. This is a job in conjunction with University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust in the South West Peninsula Deanery. Finally, the DDRC Fellowship programme offers a 1 year training opportunity which is a comprehensive foundation in Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine.
I’m a GP / consultant with a general interest
Diving and Hyperbaric medicine can be complimentary to many careers. It is a broad speciality with doctors hyperbaric physicians coming from specialities such as Anaesthetics, GP, ENT, Cardiology, Neurosurgery etc. Whatever your speciality there is often a way to find a diving medicine or hyperbaric medicine aspect to it.
The best way is usually to undertake some basic training in the area via the DMAC courses (see the junior doctor opportunities page). From there the next steps often become clear, either by working with your local BHA chamber or perhaps within the fitness to dive area.
I want to do recreational diving medicals
Although any doctor can technically sign the PADI medical form, please ask yourself whether you have the experience to be able to do so. As a minimum a doctor making fitness to dive decisions should be trained to DMAC Level 1.
If you’d like to do this training then there are a number of courses doing this in the world, links are on the DMAC page: DMAC | Recognition of Courses in Diving Medicine (dmac-diving.org)
The UKDMC (the form required to dive with BSAC) always welcomes new referees. More details are here: Become a Referee - UKDMC
I want to start doing occupational diving medicals
The HSE in the UK have specific requirement to be able to undertake diving medicals which are listed: Diving: AMED approval and review process (hse.gov.uk)
If you are from outside of the UK
I want to become a diving doctor for expeditions
This is how I got into diving medicine! It’s a super way to get lots of diving experience and to spend time in often pretty exotic places.
However, you need to understand that you need to have a good understanding of diving medicine before you go, as well as the clinical background to enable unsupported clinical practice in a remote environment.
The best way of getting this experience would be through some formal training and also spending some time working in a diving medicine environment, not only to understand the management of acute DCI but also the fitness to dive aspects. So ideally complete dive medicine training to level 2d or at least specific expedition diving medicine course taught by a diving physician.
I want to provide hyperbaric oxygen for complementary therapy / alternative medicine purposes
HBO is commissioned by the NHS for treatment of DCI and AGE. Many BHA chambers will also treat established indications for which there is a good evidence base on a charitable, private or NHS exceptional funding basis. For a list of established indications have a look at the relevant pages on this website or check the EUBS or UHMS indication list.
There are an increasing number of providers offering “mild” HBO or HBO for indications where the evidence base is very weak. If you’re considering doing this or have been asked to provide medical cover please be cautious – although HBO is generally very safe when done well, you need to have a good understanding and adequate training to be able to practice hyperbaric medicine safely. You also need all of the engineering and technical expertise available. Please be very cautious and seek the training above to understand what you are getting yourself into.