UTMB aerospace medicine residents to train in Antarctica
Austere environment with limited resources is similar to space

By Maureen Balleza

GALVESTON —Two aerospace medicine residents will have an ‘out-of-this-world’ experience when they head to the South Pole for a rotation through the medical clinics operated by the Center for Polar Medical Operations at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

“For aerospace medicine, austere environments like Antarctica have always been considered an analog for space,” said Dr. Tarah Castleberry, assistant professor at UTMB’s Preventive Medicine and Community Health and former flight surgeon for the U.S. Navy’s elite Blue Angels squadron. “It’s a great opportunity for residents to go and learn and see that environment.”
Dr. Scott Parazynski, chief medical officer and director of the Center for Polar Medical Operations, said this is a great example of the collaboration at UTMB. “These residents have an opportunity to do some great research and experience daily the medicine they’re training for.”
As a former astronaut who flew five missions in space and an avid mountain climber who has summited Mt. Everest, Parazynski’s interest and specialty is the practice of medicine in extreme environments. He is the founding director of the CPMO, which provides medical services on the ice for the United States Antarctic Program of the National Science Foundation, as a contractor to Lockheed Martin.
“I think it’s a win-win,” said Dr. Natacha Chough, who will serve on the ice in January and February 2015. “It fulfills the need for medical staff down there and gives us the chance to put into practice what we’ve learned and studied in aerospace medicine – to use our skills in a resource-limited environment.”
The UTMB aerospace medicine program prepares doctors in aviation and space medicine, space biomedical research, aerospace medicine and manned space flight. The residents are involved with research on the effects of space flight on average people, a new frontier in medicine as commercial launches approach reality.
Chough is on the more traditional track for aerospace residents; she has already completed a residency in emergency medicine and has earned a master’s degree in public health during her two-year residency in aerospace medicine.
Dr. James Pattarini, who travels south in October, is in a combined program which takes four years. He is combining his internal medicine residency with an aerospace residency and also earned a master’s degree in public health. Both doctors will complete their training in June 2015.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Antarctica and so the fact that it’s tied to a professional program is amazing,” he said. “I think it’s as close as you can get to being off Earth and still be on it.”
For Pattarini, there’s an extra bonus — a special bond with his 93-year-old grandfather, who maintains the only thing he’s ever regretted is not going to Antarctica when he had an opportunity to do so while in the military.
Pattarini never knew this until he was accepted for the clinical rotation.
“My grandfather is absolutely over the moon,” he said. “He’s living it vicariously. As I go shopping for gear I’m sending him emails.”