The sky's the limit for Planet Earth II doctor Lucy

The BBC’s Planet Earth II has enthralled millions of viewers with its high-definition return to the natural world. And among the many people to have played an important role behind the camera in bringing the documentary to television screens is a Plymouth doctor with a head for heights.

Dr Lucy Obolensky, programme lead for the Global and Remote Healthcare masters degree within the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, supported Sir David Attenborough as a medic in the hot air balloon sequence for the opening scene of the series. And it’s just the latest example of Lucy’s long-running engagement work with the broadcaster.

“I’ve been working with the BBC intermittently over the last decade, mostly teaching advanced medical skills to crews visiting remote parts of the world,” says Lucy. “On this occasion, I was asked to be a part of a team of doctors seconded to different programmes in the series.

“Usually we would provide training to the crew, but because the Planet Earth II teams were being deployed to some austere environments, they decided that they needed doctors to accompany them. I was the lucky one who was sent up in the balloon with Sir David; my colleague James Moore, by contrast, had to spend 16 days in sub-zero temperatures camping in a penguin pool!”

For the island-focused programme, Lucy spent five days with Sir David and the team at Chateau d’Aix in Switzerland – and it all went smoothly up to a point.

She says: “Everything up there was phenomenal, the most amazing views. We had a bit of a bumpy landing though – the basket tipped the opposite way to that which we were expecting and rather than supporting Sir David I actually ended up on top of him! Luckily, no harm was caused to our national treasure!”

In the programme devoted to ‘the urban environment’, Lucy accompanied Sir David to the top of The Shard for a two-day shoot. 

“We walked right to the top – 300 steps and Sir David barely stopped for a breather. He was quite amazing.”

Dr Lucy Obolensky, programme lead for the MSc Global and Remote Healthcare, said:

I was the lucky one who was sent up in the balloon with Sir David; my colleague James Moore, by contrast, had to spend 16 days in sub-zero temperatures camping in a penguin pool

It is quite a contrast to her daily duties as a GP and University clinician, albeit the planetary focus does chime with her long-time interest in global and remote healthcare. Since 2000, she has completed more than 20 expeditions, including to Africa, South and Central America, India, Tibet and Vietnam. She was the medic for the Help for Heroes Kilimanjaro Summit and she also teaches advanced medical skills to explorers and expedition leaders at the Royal Geographical Society and the BBC.

Lucy has helped to run hospital partnerships in Kenya, setting up primary healthcare services and initiating programmes such as the Kenya Orthopaedic Project; the Nanyuki-Torbay Partnership; and founding the charity Exploring Global Health Opportunities, an umbrella charity that supports health and social programmes throughout Kenya.

She has a close working relationship with The Northern Rangelands Trust, an organisation that supports communities and conservation in an area of north Kenya which borders Somalia, and over the past five years has helped them to implement a healthcare system where there was previously nothing and where people live at least six hours away from the nearest functioning hospital.

She says: “We know that there are hundreds of medically-trained professionals out there who may be thinking about taking time out to work overseas, and the training is available for them to hone their skill set to suit the clinical, physical and cultural challenges they may face. For me, the opportunity to make a real difference to communities in Kenya over years of visits has been humbling and an honour. I first visited those communities as a newly-qualified doctor and since then I have visited on a regular basis, even taking my children as the years have gone by.

My family and I are now a part of that community and words cannot describe how special and life-affirming that is. My advice to any doctor looking to make a contribution overseas is to go for it – it makes such a difference to the communities we work with, ourselves as professionals and, indeed, our patients back here in the UK.”

The University’s MSc Global and Remote Healthcare programme was one of the first of its kind in the UK and supports the continuing professional development of doctors working around the world, from the heat of Sub-Saharan Africa to the extreme cold of Antarctica. As well as its remit in education, the programme is also the incubator for life-changing research and sustainable projects in health and social care in countries where they are needed. And that clearly extends to working with – and safeguarding – one of the world’s most popular and respected television presenters.

“It’s an indication of the broad appeal that Sir David has that everyone in my family, from my nine-year-old nephew to my husband and my granny, was as excited about this opportunity as I was,” Lucy adds. “His popularity spans generations and he was an absolute joy to work with."

MSc Global and Remote Healthcare

Are you interested in global and remote healthcare, and in expedition and exploration medicine? 

Our masters programme will empower you to confidently meet the challenges of working in complex and unpredictable situations; overseas, on expedition, in low resource settings or within your UK practice. Following comprehensive preparatory modules we provide you with the unique opportunity to undertake a placement in a global or remote environment as part of your immersive learning experience. Discover, discuss and debate with our expert faculty.

Learn more about MSc Global and Remote Healthcare.

Global

Global health is defined as 

"the area of study, research and practice that places a priority on improving health and achieving equity in health for all people worldwide"*

This programme will introduce you to the concepts of global health at a policy and grass roots level. We will support you in exploring current global health challenges, and the importance of global health issues – their economic, environmental and social consequences – and the policies and strategies to mitigate these.

In our increasingly interconnected world, global health and the health of populations is a major challenge. This module provides you with the knowledge and expertise to critically examine the multi-sectoral nature of global health problems and global policy responses required to protect and promote the health of populations in both a local and global environment.

*Koplan JP, Bond TC, Merson MH, et al. (June 2009). "Towards a common definition of global health". Lancet. 373 (9679): 1993–5. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60332-9

Remote

Learning in the field is a vital component of being an effective remote practitioner. 

We focus this module on scenario based learning in the field, to allow you to understand more effectively the physiological and logistical challenges of working in austere environments. Remote healthcare is as much about team working and leadership as pathophysiology and treatment of illnesses and the human dynamics will be a main focus of this module. 

We use faculty with direct wilderness and expedition experience in altitude, heat, cold, maritime and jungle environments to guide you in pushing your own learning experiences to the limits. 

Whether your focus is summiting mountains, spending 18 months in Antarctica or providing health care in remote clinics of Mongolia we will provide you with the skills to approach remote healthcare challenges in the field.