Louise Cameron left hospital nursing to become an oilrig medic and found her dream job on the North Sea
“I was around four years old when I first begun to vocalise that I was going to be a nurse,” says Louise Cameron, an occupational health medic for Maersk Oil. “I never deviated from that. I joined the local British Red Cross youth group at 11 years old, keen to attend events and provide hands-on care.”
On her way to her current role, in which she provides medical support to oilrig workers, Ms Cameron navigated her way through school, eventually completing a year’s course in health studies. She then worked as an auxiliary nurse and later attained her diploma in adult nursing. As a staff nurse at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Ms Cameron found herself curious about the influx of medical evacuation patients from the North Sea.
“I was around four years old when I first begun to vocalise that I was going to be a nurse”
“I met many patients who would tell me about the treatment they’d been given offshore by the medic prior to being airlifted to the hospital,” she says. “That caused me to look into the role of offshore medic and what I’d need to do to get involved. It sounded great for me.”
After completing an additional course, she became a certified occupational health medic at Maersk Oil and found work as an offshore medic to be worlds apart from hospital nursing.
“There is little to compare between the two. In the hospital, I rarely knew any of the patients who arrived on the ward,” she says. “Offshore, I know almost everybody on a personal and professional level. I travel with them, work alongside them and socialise with them away from work when attending courses. One of the best things about this close working relationship is that we can often successfully influence people’s long-term lifestyle choices.”
“I met many patients who would tell me about the treatment they’d been given offshore by the medic prior to being airlifted to the hospital”
Ms Cameron’s standard 12-hour shift includes more than strictly medical treatment. “I am responsible for the primary healthcare of up to 110 personnel at a time, but there are, mercifully, not enough medical cases daily to justify my full shift,” she says. “Therefore, I’m involved in many other activities outside my primary role – I engage in occupational health-based tasks, deliver first-aid training to the crew, provide inductions for new personnel, assist with health and safety activities, review policies and procedures, and manage all helicopter movements on and off the rig.”
A typical oilrig medic working rotation is three weeks off and three weeks on, according to Ms Cameron. She finds that balance necessary, as her duties in times of need can be very demanding. Doctors are on call to the medics 24/7, but they are not present at the rig, which means the medic performs all hands-on duties.
“It’s not an environment that suits everyone,” she says. “I am the only medically qualified person on board at any given time. When dealing with a serious case, the burden of responsibility can weigh heavily sometimes. In the event of a patient evacuation via the coastguard, I can expect to manage whatever situation has presented itself for a minimum of 1 hour and 45 minutes, until they can fly to my location. I could potentially deal with a patient’s serious illness or trauma alone for many hours.”
While her job can be demanding, Ms Cameron insists that she couldn’t imagine doing anything else and wants to stay put at Maersk as a nurse turned oilrig medic.
”When dealing with a serious case, the burden of responsibility can weigh heavily sometimes.”
“Those who don’t fancy the idea of flying for a long time in a cramped helicopter, wearing three layers of clothing under an immersion suit while also wearing a bulky life vest, underwater air supply, ear plugs and ear defenders, need not apply! A strong set of sea legs to cope with the mighty winter swells on the North Sea are also a must. If you think you can cope with all that and are still excited, then I can’t put anybody off the idea. I absolutely love my job.”
Cameron’s position as occupational health medic appears to stray far from that of a hospital nurse, so what is it that makes her job so rewarding? “That’s easy,” she says. “It hasn’t changed since day one as a 17-year-old auxiliary nurse: it’s doing my job, every day, to the best of my abilities and having the opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Sometimes it’s in a subtle way, other times it’s when they need it most.”