To be permitted to deploy to Antarctica with the United States Antarctic Program, one must pass physical qualification examinations, known as the PQ.

PQ is also used as a verb by ice people. Passing the exams is known as having PQ'ed.

The Antarctic PQ is administered by Raytheon Polar Services and consists of two parts: Dental and Medical. The applicant may go to her own dentist and physicians, but all data must be entered on RPSC supplied forms. The applicant is expected to pay for all required testing. RPSC and the United States Antarctic Program provide no financial assistance beyond research grants, and it is presumed medical fees will be drawn from grant funds.


The dental PQ is relatively uncomplicated. All known cavities must be filled. Any periodontal disease must be treated. Periodontal gaps larger than 5mm must be noted and explained.

In prior years, any 3rd molars (wisdom teeth) had to be removed before travel was allowed. This is no longer the case. The participant with healthy wisdom teeth can keep them and go to the ice as long as they are evaluated as "non-symptomatic" by the dental professional.

Every five years, or the first time to the ice, the applicant must provide a panographic x-ray or full mouth x-ray series. Four mounted bitewing x-rays of all posterior teeth are provided every other year.

The x-rays and dentist evaluation remarks are sent to the RPSC dentist, who takes his own judgement on the data provided. He can overrule the local dentist and ask for more data.

I was able to send digital x-rays to RPSC, though they would not accept the JPEG files. I had to print them myself and FedEx them. (Then they complained about my printer quality, so I had to go print them at a friend's house and re-send them.)


The medical PQ consists of several parts grouped roughly into blood, heart,physical, and immunization. All applicants must fill out an extensive 5-page medical history detailing family medical history. Applicants must certify the accuracy of the history or be disqualified.

As with the dental PQ, the applicant collects all the forms and data from her own physicians and provides them to RPSC, where a physician there evaluates the results. Frequently, the RPSC physician will ask questions, requiring the applicant to go back to her doctor to obtain clarification, certification, and in some cases, retesting.(Except for blood work--all blood work is done through an RPSC lab. This year RPSC picked LabCorp. I had to drive to the Mission in San Francisco to get my blood drawn and pee taken. LabCorp theoretically has offices wherever there are Antarctic participants, and so one must use them or find another lab who'll follow all the arcane "polar profile" instructions to the letter.)

Blood - Fluids All applicants go through a though blood/urine screening called the "polar profile". Applicants are tested for:

All female applicants must provide pap smear test results yearly.

Applicants over 50 are required to undergo a Guaiac stool test.

Coming up positive or with bad numbers on any one of these tests is not necessarily a cause to fail PQ. Duration of stay, location, and criticality of personnel are taken into consideration. For instance, an applicant with high cholesterol levels would be sent back to her physician for treatment, and with a doctor's certification describing the treatment, could be allowed to deploy.

It does not appear that applicants are screened for illegal drug use--at least those tests appear nowhere on my results forms nor are they mentioned in any of the literature.

All personnel with blood type O+ deploying to the ice sign a waiver agreeing to be considered part of the "walking blood bank", and can be called on at any time for a donation.

Heart - Pulmonary

All applicants over 40 are required to supply a 12-lead EKG tracing once as a baseline, and then again in five years. Applicants over 50 are required to supply one every year.

Applicants over 50 are required to undergo a treadmill stress test every two years. Applicants under 50 can be required to supply one on the advisement of the RPSC physician for issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or irregularities in EKG tracings.

Applicants who have ever smoked (anything), or have had a history of pulmonary disease, or are planning to winter-over, are required to supply a chest x-ray every 5 years.

All female applicants are required to provide mammograms every 2 years when they are 35 or older. Female applicants over 50 must provide them every year.

RPSC employees can be required to show proof of passing a hearing test and a pulmonary function test every year.


Physical The applicant must get a board-certified physician to sign-off on her travel to hazardous climes. The physician is notified by letter that Antarctica is a particularly nasty place, being the driest, coldest, windiest, most food-free place on earth. The physician is cautioned to be REALLY REALLY sure this person isn't going to die with a National Geographic cameraman standing by.

The physican then asks the applicant if she isn't crazy (no reply is satisfactory), and then examines the following areas of the applicant's body and answers "O" meaning "satisfactory", or "X", meaning unsatisfactory, on the RPSC form:

The doc is also required to provide your height, weight, pulse rate, temperature, blood pressure, and corrected vision (e.g. can you see 20/20 with/without glasses?)

Other forms Along with the PQ forms an applicant is required to provide preferences for housing on the ice as well as city of origin so the travel agency can obtain plane tickets. The applicant provides preferences for housing in Christchurch, New Zealand. Dates of deployment are also provided.

For instance, an individual can request to room with someone who shares the same waking/sleeping hours, a smoker or nonsmoker, or a friend. Everyone who is not a full-time employee in Antarctica has a roommate.

Once an individual has passed PQ, RPSC mails plane tickets to the individual allowing her to travel to and from the ice on the dates she has specified. Commercial airlines are used to travel from the US to Christchurch. Once in Christchurch, the applicant is under the auspices of the US Antarctic Program and is told when and where to appear for air travel to Antarctica.

iceowl pq'ed yesterday for 2002 travel to Antarctica. huzzah!

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