Spotlight on Nurse Jennie

Our onboard nurse maintains the health of the crew and science party and responds to any medical emergencies or health concerns aboard the ship.

I originally started my maritime career working on ocean going tugboats. I was a deckhand and able sailor (AB) on tugs that went from Seattle to all different parts of Alaska. I fell in love with sailing and immersing myself in the marine environment. After 3 years of that work, I pivoted over into the marine research world. I worked as a marine tech helping to support several different projects involving Steller sea lions that NOAA was running. The studies were primarily looking at population health, which involved pup capture and genetic studies as well as resight trips, which involve counting tagged animals. After that I did work in the Western Aleutian Islands helping to perform the first near-coastal survey of all the flora and fauna of that region.

I finished my time on the water spending the next 3 years working in the Arctic Circle in the Chukchi Sea on a project that was gathering baseline environmental data about the Arctic. It was truly amazing to spend time around so many passionate scientists who were leaders in their respective fields. I found the excitement they had for their work to be really infectious, and I found them to be very generous in sharing their knowledge and time explaining their particular research. After 7 years on the water, I left that work to start a family and pursue a career in nursing, my joke being that sea lions and people aren’t that dissimilar—an observation which I can say holds a lot of truth. 

After 13 years of working as a nurse, primarily in the field of emergency medicine, I jumped at the chance to return to sea. Now my daughter Ayla (12) and my son Beau (10) get to see me come full circle and return to maritime research while combining it with my career in nursing.

Jennie LaDage worked for 13 years as an ER nurse

Jennie LaDage worked for 13 years as an ER nurse.

Jennie with her daughter Ayla (12) and son Beau (10)

Jennie with her daughter Ayla (12) and son Beau (10).

I am the sole medical provider onboard and I work with shoreside physicians to help diagnose and treat injuries and ailments. In the ship’s hospital I manage a variety of health concerns, most minor, but others more complex. Common ailments include motion sickness (which is a big one out here), headaches or upset stomach. We have antibiotics on board to treat infections encompassing things like pneumonia, tooth infections, cellulitis, or urinary tract infections. I have a large cache of over the counter (OTC) medications on board in addition to some prescription medications. I also have lots of bandages and ointments and creams to treat different maladies.

I have diagnostic equipment to check blood sugar and can perform a urinalysis. I also have the capability to check a person’s heart rhythm with an EKG. We have supplemental oxygen on board as well as a variety of splints to deal with slips, trips, and falls and I have suturing equipment and staple guns to deal with big lacerations or cuts.

My background is in emergency medicine and critical care. I am able to consult with an emergency medicine physician in the states for any problem or issue that comes up that requires more than OTC medications. Anything major like a major trauma or a broken bone or major health crisis such as a heart attack or stroke would require transfer to more definitive care and we would attempt to evacuate the patient.

Aside from holding regular clinic hours in the ship’s hospital, I fill my time writing, reading, and spending time in the wheelhouse.

Jennie holds regular clinic hours in the ship’s hospital and spends time reading and writing in her off time

Jennie holds regular clinic hours in the ship’s hospital and spends time reading and writing in her off time.

The ship’s hospital is well-equipped for diagnosing and treating injuries and ailments

The ship’s hospital is well-equipped for diagnosing and treating injuries and ailments.

The opportunity to join this cruise presented itself to me and I feel extremely fortunate that I was in the ‘right place at the right time’. The timing worked out incredibly well with the current contract work I was doing coming to an end. I am also fortunate to have a supportive partner who is able to be with our children and continue to raise them while I am out at sea.

I am humbled to be able to be part in some small way of this urgent and necessary work. I think it is easy to feel despondent about the current state of the world and our evolving global climate crisis. These problems seem overwhelming and complex, and I think it is easy to start to lose hope. It feels very good to be able to sail on a cruise, that through the data collected, will help contribute to the body of knowledge that will hopefully lead to solutions. It feels exciting to help tackle some of the big scientific questions about ocean temperature rise and an increase in ocean acidification. Knowing the data collected on this cruise will be used to understand the size and scope and scale of the problem, I believe will ultimately help in solving it.

I feel drawn to Antarctica and the Southern polar region having spent time earlier in my career in the furthest reaches of the Northern most latitudes. It is not lost on me what a privilege it is to spend time in such a remote environment and journey to a region few will ever see. The opportunity to spend time in both extreme polar regions is a dream come true. The chance to support this important work by helping ensure the health and safety of the other 52 scientists and crew onboard is truly a gift and an exciting advancement in my career.

I am enjoying getting to know the crew and scientists of this research cruise. Everyone has their own unique story and set of circumstances that has brought them onboard. I want my children to feel like they can do anything and are limited by nothing. I hope my joining this cruise helps cement that fact for them. I want them to be able to follow their dreams no matter where they take them. I am looking forward to exploring Australia with my husband and kids, as they are traveling from our home in Patagonia, Arizona to meet the ship upon her return and will join me in the Perth area in a few weeks.

Jennie and her family

Jennie and her family.

ennie and her family at the top of Mt…, near where they live in Arizona

Jennie and her family at the top of Mount Wrightson, near where they live in Arizona

All images are by Jenny LaDage unless otherwise noted.