As a new series of SAS: Who Dares Wins comes to an end, Magpas Air Ambulance Doctor Charlotte Haldane—who has worked on several of the series, as well as on other high-profile TV shows and documentaries—talks about what it’s like to provide medical and safety support in some of the world’s most extreme environments.
Not only are you a HEMS doctor with both Magpas Air Ambulance and North West Air Ambulance but you also work on lots of other exciting projects too. Can you tell us more about them?
In the past couple of years I’ve worked in the Arctic and Antarctica with Lewis Pugh as he broke world records; spent a month on a boat with Steve Backshall on one of his recent expeditions; explored caves, deserts and waterfalls with Will Smith on his new show ‘Welcome to Earth’; and worked on three seasons of SAS: Who Dares Wins (both the civilian and celebrity shows).
How have you come to work in such a niche role?
Of course my work with air ambulance charities—providing patients with Pre-Hospital Emergency Medicine (PHEM)—played a part, but I had to do a lot of other different kinds of training both in medicine and the outdoors in order to work competently in these environments. Luckily these days, this work forms a part of my job plan and my career but it has been many, many years in the making!
There is a lot more involved in these jobs than initially meets the eye. I often work as a safety advisor as well as a doctor and the scale of these shoots and projects is something else. They take a huge amount of hard work, endless risk assessments, evac plans, extensive planning, reccees and a lot of medical kit to prevent and prepare for any emergency. It’s an incredible job to do and combines my love for adventure and medicine.
The celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins series has just been aired. It’s renowned for being a very tough series, is it the most extreme project of this kind you’ve worked on?
There’s no doubt that the show is very real and difficult for its participants. It’s all about pushing people, and the pressure and physical endurance they go through is hard. However, everything I’ve done has been so different. For example, although not as physically demanding, working with Will Smith in really remote, cold and crazy environments was also very extreme in its own way.
On the show, the contestants have limited sleep and take on challenges at all times of the day and night. Do you have the same sleeping pattern?
Yes! As the safety and medical team, we’re always the first in and last out when it comes to the tasks they undertake to ensure everyone’s safety throughout. There’s no doubt it’s exhausting at times and a lot of hard work, but it’s always really fun too, so definitely worth it. Particularly the escape and evasion part of the show where they’re split into teams and trek through the desert at night, trying to avoid ‘capture’; we’re effectively hiding in the desert all night and it’s a lot of fun for us behind the scenes.
What’s your favourite aspect of working on SAS: Who Dares Wins, and what is the most challenging?
The people! It’s an honour and privilege to be surrounded by all these cool people who are at the top of their game. From the Directing Staff (DS) who have all been there and done it, and are amazing in their roles, to the ropes team who are incredible climbers, and the camera crew who are dangling from ropes or running in extreme heat with all their equipment to get that perfect shot. Everyone there is inspirational.
There’s no doubt though that although there’s a lot of fun to be had and it’s an honour to work in such a role, there’s a huge amount of responsibility in it too. There’s a doctor who has to stay on site, but at the challenge sites I’m the lead doctor and work with a couple of paramedics. It’s a huge undertaking to make sure everyone is safe and there’s an awful lot to think about at any one time. In a split second you have to be able to provide technically difficult medicine and make hard decisions under pressure, in hostile environments.
What was it like providing medical care in that environment?
It’s challenging, and you have to be prepared to manage anything and be an expert on all the different medical issues that can present themselves in each environment. On SAS: Who Dares Wins, for example, you’re in the desert and even simple things like preventing contestants and crew from getting heat stroke can save lives. However, I have to think about a whole other set of potential medical risks when I’m with Will Smith and a film crew in a cave, or Steve Backshall in the middle of the ocean!
Fortunately, my work with Magpas Air Ambulance—and all my personal experiences and training opportunities I’ve undertaken—has prepared me for this. Since my university days I’ve been taking on solo expeditions, worked as an expedition leader, become a dive master and mountain leader, received my Diploma in Mountain Medicine and joined long-term research projects in Antarctica and on Mount Everest…and am in the military. All this training, as well as my work with Magpas Air Ambulance—in which we’re constantly providing advanced critical care to patients in difficult and often rural environments—has allowed me to do this job I have today. This job has also taught me to work autonomously, which is very different to a lot of medical work when you usually have whole teams of people in hospitals.
What advice would you give to others considering this career path?
For anyone looking to take on similar opportunities, my advice would definitely be to get as much experience as possible first. Of course from a medical perspective, (PHEM is a great way to do that!) but also to get out in the world as often as you can. Get experience and qualifications in all the sports and activities you love. It can be easy to get swept up in the idea that this is a dream job and just go for it, but there are a lot of lives on the line and you have to be the best you can be for all those people.
Are there any other exciting projects in the pipeline?
There are. Some I’ve already worked on, and some that are up and coming—but they’re all top secret until aired so you’ll have to wait and see!