Jill Garland '98
by Sara Bodnar '03
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 75, No. 1, Fall 2003
Two years after graduating from Bowdoin (alma mater to dad Charlie Garland '62) as a government/psychology major, Jill Garland '98 suddenly found a stethoscope hanging from her neck and the health of 39 people in her hands. In October 2000, Jill had embarked upon a voyage with the crew of the Picton Castle, a 180-foot tallship set to sail 30,000 nautical miles around the world. She signed up as a position between a mate and a deckhand. But four months into the journey her role took on a different vein. The medical officer left the ship and Jill was the only crewmember who was a certified EMT. A government and psychology major with a non-science background, Jill knew she had to go outside of her comfort zone. "There was a realization that even though I wasn't qualified to fill the position, somebody needed to be designated medically responsible," Jill said.
In spite of nerves, Jill confronted the impending challenge head on. The captain's sister, who happened to be a nurse practitioner, was visiting the Picton Castle. The two women sat in front of the ship's medical chest and Jill received a crash course in medicine. "We knew that some emergencies could happen that I wouldn't be able to handle," Jill said, "but we also recognized that there were a lot of things that I probably could be able to handle if I was prepared for them, even if I wasn't a doctor." Jill learned how to do sutures, how to start IVs, and studied remedies for ailments like jelly fish stings and skin infections. When a crewmember experienced a severe reaction to a jellyfish sting, Jill was able to set her up on an IV and place her on pain medication. (Maritime Health Services provided crucial assistance via satellite telephone, and Jill cared for the girl until they reached the nearest island, which was eight hours away.)
Jill also tended to people she met on the islands. While they were sailing through the South Pacific, Jill and the crew stayed on Palmerston's Island. The island's 50 residents had no access to medical care, and one child was plagued with a serious skin infection. Jill wanted to help but was unable to prescribe medication, so she contacted Maritime Health Services, and received instructions on how to reduce the antibiotics down to pediatric doses. Throughout her two-week sojourn, Jill saw the child everyday. The patient was nearly recovered by the time Jill left the island.
After seven months of medical responsibility for a crew of 39 people, Jill welcomed the arrival of a new doctor. "Even though it was a huge relief to have a doctor on board, part of me really enjoyed being the medical officer," Jill recalled. "Doctor Hardy quickly realized that I had fallen in love with medicine and that I wanted to continue learning." On Christmas Day, Jill and Doctor Hardy set up a medical clinic on Nosy Mitsio, a far-flung island off the Madagascar coast. They treated 15 to 20 people in two hours. "With Doctor Hardy there, I felt like we were able to help more people and in general I was even more certain about what I was diagnosing," Jill said. "Providing much-needed care to so many people was amazing."
In June 2002, Jill was ready to navigate another course when the Picton Castle returned to its homeport of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. She received her EMT re-certification, and is currently taking summer classes in preparation for a pre-medical curriculum. She intends to enter a physician's assistant program in 2004. "When I got on the ship, I never considered going into medicine," Jill admitted. "I like to think that eventually I'd figure this out, but I have no idea what I'd be doing if I hadn't gone on Picton Castle."