As a result, according to Peter West, who manages Antarctica-related media for the National Science Foundation, there is an intensive screening process for prospective workers. The tests for physical and mental fitness are much like those given to astronauts. The best way to avoid emergencies, West says, is to reduce risk.
This screening is generally successful. Bill Coughran, an area manager who spent several winters in the South Pole and is there right now, says, “We are naturally very safety-conscious. The most common accident would be back strain or the odd slip.” Polly Penhale, who is in charge of health and safety for the U.S. stations in the Antarctic, echoes, “The most common accidents are minor ones. Strains, muscle pulls, getting cut in the kitchen. Summer and winter aren’t all that different.”
When an emergency does happen, there are a few nurses and general physicians at the base. However, there aren’t any specialists. For psychological treatment and physical ailments requiring specialized help, the Antarctic bases have a partnership with the University of Texas Medical School. “There’s a rigorous telemedical program,” Penhale explains.
Still, no matter how mentally fit the person, lack of sunlight causes a deficiency in Vitamin D. Without enough sunlight—the amount needed depends on the color of a person’s skin, and how much is exposed—it’s common to become sick and depressed. When asked whether stations typically have a sunroom for those who stay the winter, West replied, “Individuals may have their own lamps. But there is no program-wide room with Vitamin D lamps.”