“I was able to see an aspect of medicine that I would not have seen otherwise”


was struck down with such severe diarrhoea and vomiting that he ended up in hospital. Playing down the experience, he says: “I got excellent care in Kathmandu and it didn’t last very long.” Though he has found himself in risky situations, Matt says he has

never felt directly in danger, because he always makes sure he is with “people who are also interested in their own self-preservation.” An interest in self-preservation may not have been particularly

obvious when Matt applied to join the medical team on an ambitious charity trip that was to see 110 paraglider pilots and almost 700 porters climb Mount Kilimanjaro, camp on the summit and then paraglide off the top to a nearby town. The 2014 Wings of Kilimanjaro project raised $1,000,000 and presented Matt with an enormous logistical challenge. He was tasked with assembling a medical team and drawing up an

expedition plan for tackling altitude illness, infectious diarrhoea, logistical problems and trauma. Medically the trip was a success, but bad weather ultimately forced the cancellation of the paragliding. Despite the disappointing outcome, Matt describes it as “a huge

learning experience” that did much to set him and his colleagues up in the world of expedition medicine. It also underlined the motto of one of Matt’s fellow adventurers who told him: “It’s not an adventure if you know how it is going to turn out.”

Time out When he is not adventuring, Matt is a registrar in anaesthesia and critical care in Edinburgh. His pathway to becoming a consultant has been delayed by his expedition work, but the 36-year-old has no regrets. He says: “I left training at ST5 as I couldn’t fit my interests in remote medicine around NHS training. Had I not done all the adventurous stuff, I would have finished three years ago.

FROM FAR LEFT: Matt Wilkes with AMREF flying doctors, East Africa; paragliding over the Alps; and with GP wife Ellie.

“I am delighted with my decision – my mum isn’t!” he laughs. “I think some colleagues take pity on me because I have not achieved the traditional career milestones, but most have been really supportive.” Regularly asked for career advice, Matt and Ellie launched the website and online magazine, Adventure Medic, to showcase the wide range of opportunities for healthcare professionals. From a first-person piece by a doctor who cycled across six continents to looking after veteran broadcaster Sir Richard Attenborough on a hot air balloon trip to the Swiss Alps, the features are as diverse as the couple’s own careers. For those inspired to take their medical career in a different direction,

Matt says: “Have an honest think about what you would genuinely like to do. There is so much expectation from other people, it is often hard to tease out what you really want out of your life and career. “I think we suffer from ‘CV-itis’ in medicine, we do so many things

because we think it will be good for the CV, but are you actually going to enjoy the process? And will it be good for you? Speak to as many people as possible – they will almost always be more approachable than you think.”

In the short-term Matt is working on a PhD in altitude physiology

(part of the Free Flight Physiology Project), while Ellie is planning a trip to Africa to work in women’s health. Longer term, he will return to finish his specialty training. “I am living my life in a way that I believe to be fulfilling and

worthwhile and I would hugely recommend taking time out of training to anyone with similar goals – just don’t expect to become a consultant any time soon!”

Kristin Ballantyne is a freelance writer based in Glasgow


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