'There's no one to ask for help' - Highland GP reveals what it is like to be an expedition medic

Clare Connelly-Cottet’s training to be a GP in the remote and rural Highlands will prepare her to be the only doctor available in some situations.

But Ms Connelly-Cottet is already used to this, having been the designated medic on several private expeditions across the world, including in Tanzania, North America, South America and northern Norway and Sweden.

She has also been even further afield on her own adventures with her husband, taking time out of work to cycle across the Pamir and Karakoram mountains, trek across the Himalays on foot and cycle and hike from the top of Mt Kenya to Kilmanjaro.

Ms Connelly-Cottet, who is in training at Fort William, said she has a “yearning” to go outside and be active.

Clare Connolly, as pictured by husband Antoine Cottet @cottisch

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But she adds her need for adventure is more than this: “It's going to places where you need to go back almost to primal instincts, your survival is based on the decisions that you make when you're out there,” she says.

“That's something we're so far removed from in our comfortable modern lives that it just feels really real when you're out there.”

The 31-year-old has negotiated periods of leave from her training in order to fulfil her desire to travel, and wants to encourage other doctors to have adventures alongside their working lives as well.

"When you do that and you're fulfilled in that area of your life, then you have more to give when you come back,” she says.

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In the Himalayas. Picture: Antoine Cottet @cottisch

Not all experiences have been positive however, and during a trip to East Africa in 2020 Ms Connelly-Cottet and her husband Antoine were robbed.

The couple were in a taxi in Zanzibar when it was hijacked by a group of men who held them captive for over four hours.

They were driven to an isolated area and surrounded by at least 20 men, Ms Connelly-Cottet said, before being searched, threatened with physical violence, and driven around for hours to retrieve cash from different ATMs.

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The thieves eventually let the pair go, first stripping them of all cash, bank cards and valuable photography equipment.

In Nepal at 6,200m. Picture: Antoine Cottet @cottisch

This harrowing experience made it difficult to trust people at first, but the couple returned to travelling in 2021, and were able to return to the Himalayas as planned before the pandemic.

Her adventures abroad help prepare for being an expedition medic, Ms Connelly-Cottet said, as she is more able to cope on expeditions when she needs to be comfortable enough to give aid to others.

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These expeditions are also good preparation for being a GP, she said, as while the type of medicine is very different, the need to make decisions on your own is good training.

“Medicine is a very team-based career. You always have someone to bounce ideas off, if you're a GP practice, then with your GP colleagues, if you're in hospital, you usually have senior doctors and junior doctors,” she said.

“When you’re out on an expedition it is just you.

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“You usually don't have a phone signal, so I think the most daunting part is learning to do it on your own.

“But I think that's been a huge benefit when you come back into regular medicine, you do have a bit more confidence in your diagnostic skills.

“I think they work really well together.”

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