The following essay was written in the mid-90's and updated from time to time until 2001.
The information contained was accurate at that time, but may not reflect current working environments.
Although some drilling rigs have had BLS providers working in a position known as "Medic" for some time now, Paramedics in the offshore environment is a relatively recent occurrence. One of the major third-party personnel providers, Secorp, had medics working the North Slope in the mid '70s. Petroleum Personnel, Inc. (PPI), a service company providing variously skilled contract workers to oil companies and drilling contractors, appears to be the first to offer National Registry paramedics for work in the Gulf of Mexico. This came about because some of PPI's clients began expressing a desire to have medically trained professionals available. The medics were hired and placed on offshore installations in the Gulf of Mexico in 1981. Since this was somewhat of a new concept and ambulance protocols were useless in this environment, these early remote environment medics had to write the book as they went along. They were hired right off the ambulance and placed in a strange, new environment with little or no additional training, and they worked solo. There was much to be learned.
A plethora of offshore medical service companies have come and gone through the years. A few have remained and are still providing medics to the industry. Some of these companies have diversified and trained their medics to perform a wide variety of tasks in addition to their medical duties. In the '80s Secorp spun off sister company Entech which now operates the contract medical and offshore personnel company, sending medics to remote locations around the world. PPI was bought out after a few years by Seahawk Services who in turn spun the now-thriving medic division off into a separate entity. Medic Systems is still in business as a wholly owned division of Grasso Production Management. To my knowledge Medic Systems was the first such stand alone strictly medical service company offering contract medics to the offshore oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico.
Some major drilling contractors (most notably Smedvig, Transocean Offshore, and Diamond Offshore) also staff medics aboard the rigs, although not always paramedics. Medics have become common on most domestic and international drilling rigs and most drilling contractors who do not have employees in that position will contract a paramedic from one of the service companies. To my knowledge there are only three major service companies still providing medics on a contract basis in the Gulf of Mexico. These are Medic Systems, Inc., Acadian Ambulance contract division, and Entech (mostly international). Moreno & Associates was a provider of offshore paramedics until January of 2000 when their Safety Trainer Paramedic (STP) division was sold to Acadian. Moreno still provides safety consultants to the offshore oil and gas industry, a field many paramedics have moved into due to the higher pay and greater potential for advancement. Horizon Offshore Contractors, Inc. runs a fleet of barges and hires medics to work in the Gulf of Mexico and abroad on pipe laying and platform construction projects. Frontier Medical, A division of the British company Exploration Logistics Group, has provided medics in support of various petroleum exploration operations worldwide, including on and offshore drilling rigs and seismic survey vessels, since the early 80's.
So that they may better survive the environment, medics hired to work remotely these days are provided with considerably enhanced training and additional education than those early pioneers. Subjects taught at "Remote Environment Medical Specialist" schools may include ophthalmology, otolaryngology, antibiotic therapy, minor wound repair and suturing, hydrogen sulfide gas exposure, hydrofluoric acid exposure, Rapid Sequence Intubation, central line catheterization, and more. They must also be taught advanced Hazardous materials incident control and hazard communication and advanced marine survival. Other subjects might be necessary depending on the particular location or environment of the assignment. The medics are trained to function as "Remote Environment Specialists" - a fancy title which is not necessarily what it sounds. The purpose of a medic on board a MODU (mobile offshore drilling unit) is to be available to treat minor illnesses and injuries without having to Medivac the patient. Suturing a minor laceration on location rather than flying the patient to an emergency room saves a great deal of money for the client. The installation hospital or sickbay serves the function of a remote minor emergency room and clinic, and the medic serves as a physician extender. The majority of what is seen in these sickbays are minor illnesses, colds, influenza, minor allergic reactions and minor lacerations or abrasions.
While not very much major medical or trauma is involved it does occur and the medic must be prepared for this eventuality. Remote environment medics have been credited with saving lives and easing tremendous suffering. According to the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) in their accident statistic report for the period of January through June, 1998, there were 244 incidents reported requiring onboard medical treatment, 75 lost time accidents, and three fatalities. It is certain that the lost time figures would have been much higher had not medics been onboard many of the rigs, and the fatality statistics could easily have been higher as well.
The oil companies and drilling contractors must justify the cost of having the medic on board and this is difficult to do if the medic just sits around all day waiting for a worker to become ill or injured, so medics serve multiple roles. In addition to normal medical duties they might also serve as dispatcher, radio operator, rig or company clerk, safety representative or training officer. Some positions require the medic to provide a combination of many, or even all these functions. The service companies train their medics for these various roles. Acadian Ambulance offers Safety Technicians and Behavioral Safety Paramedics. Entech offers medics with special training as hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas consultants.
The drilling contractors seldom hire medics right off of the street, but they often hire medics away from the service companies because of this enhanced training. Initially, remote Paramedic pay is only slightly better than what might be average for an ambulance service, but the possibilities for promotion are greater. Starting base pay for an offshore medic in the Gulf ranges somewhere around $32,000. After a year or two on the job you might expect to be making anywhere from $40,000 up. Some international jobs may earn $45,000 up to $60,000 or more depending on the employer and nature and location of the job assignment. Working directly for the drilling contractor almost always pays better than working for the service companies, but these drilling contractors usually hire only experienced personnel, so starting with the service companies is often the only way to break into the market. A high rate of turnover makes a medic who sticks with it a valuable commodity, and the pay is commensurate. Since all meals are provided this can be considered a benefit of the job. All necessary training and continuing education is also provided and some employers pay transportation costs to and from base.
In the Gulf of Mexico a normal hitch is usually seven or fourteen days on with an equivalent number of days off. Some of the deepwater jobs require a twenty-one day tour of duty and almost all international work is either 28/28 or 35/35. Having so many days off in a row opens up a wide range of possibilities and many offshore workers operate part-time businesses while on field-break or work PRN for an ambulance service in order to keep street skills sharp.
The standard daily shift is 12 hours, usually from 0600 to 1800, but overtime is sometimes necessary depending on the nature of the job assignment. Most domestic offshore medic assignments are paid hourly so overtime means a bigger paycheck. Off-duty hours can be spent in various forms of recreation. Some facilities have gyms or work-out rooms with exercise machines. Some have table tennis, others game tables. Almost every rig will have a television room and some of the larger rigs provide televisions in every cabin. In the Gulf of Mexico fishing is one of the favorite recreational pastimes and many offshore workers bring tackle and take fresh fish home at then end of each hitch.
Although it has slowed some in the past couple of years in the later part of the last decade we saw an upswing in the petroleum exploration industry, due mainly to increased interest in deepwater exploration and international work, with a resultant need for more trained paramedics. The major drilling contractors such as Transocean Offshore, Pride International and Global- Santa Fe, have been building and launching new semi-submersible drilling rigs and drill ships and retrofitting existing rigs for deeper work. Without doubt these rigs will have medic positions available. Further increasing the need, some drilling companies are combining the safety representative position with a medic position, and hiring trained medics to fill the position. Additionally, some of the major oil companies such as Royal Dutch/Shell and Exxon-Mobil are directly contracting for medics to be on their drilling and production projects. Others such as BP-Amoco are requiring the drilling contractor to provide a staff medic.
In spite of the industry downturn some of these companies are currently hiring. Regardless of which company you choose you will find the minimum requirements roughly the same. For employment with a U.S. company, National Registry paramedic with two, three, or even five years experience, BCLS, ACLS and PHTLS or BTLS. It helps if you have strong computer skills. A strong foundation in hazardous materials and heavy machinery is also a plus. In 2002 the need for offshore medics was so great that Acadian began hiring non-Registry medics, then training and testing them to bring them up to speed for placement.
Although anyone with the necessary credentials may apply, working in this environment appears to be ideally suited for older, experienced individuals who are growing weary of working on the truck or in the streets. Remote Paramedicine is a natural next step for this individual. The job allows him to remain in the medical community while encouraging him to stretch his knowledge and ability into new and interesting areas. Working without a partner is a challenge, and functioning as the eyes and hands of the far-distant physician is a rewarding experience. This job is not for everybody, but for those suited for the challenge it can certainly be rewarding.
For further information regarding employment in the remote environment, contact one of the firms below. I'm certain there are others, but these are the ones I am aware of at the moment. Another great source of information is the Remote Medics UK web site and mailing list. Any questions or comments regarding this author should be addressed to the author.
We used to keep a good list of potential employers and training facilities on this page, but the industry changes too quickly for us to keep up. However, someone else is doing a very good job. For a comprehensive list of Remote, Offshore and Tactical medical contacts, please see Larry Torrey's most impressive page. http://www.winterharbor.net/offshore.html
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