DAN Intern: Mary Riddle

Mary shares her experiences working on projects at DAN Headquarters.

I first heard about the DAN internship while working in Key Largo, Fla., as an instructor-in-training for the Rainbow Reef Dive Center. Teaching scuba certification courses and working as a guide and deckhand was immensely satisfying. I enjoyed the active lifestyle, the challenges of teaching and mentoring students and interacting with customers on the boats. However, midway through my internship, I was looking for a next step that would allow me to re-engage with academics, marine science and medicine. The DAN research internship's dual emphasis on dive research and hyperbaric medicine seemed like a good fit, so I applied. A few months and a phone interview later, I was a DAN intern.

All interns are assigned to work with a mentor, either with someone in the field collecting Project Dive Exploration data or with an individual who works in diving and hyperbaric medicine research at DAN headquarters in Durham, N.C. I was paired with Dr. Pollock worked on projects operating out of DAN and the Duke Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology. The exact nature of my work remained unclear until I arrived at DAN in May for orientation.

DAN is involved in a variety of programs, studies and services and in the past five months I have worked on a number of these projects. Ongoing assignments include tracking breath-hold incidents and fatalities, writing an article about the involvement of individuals with amputations and prostheses in scuba diving, researching and procuring devices for DAN's expanding physiology lab, researching protocols for NASA research projects and reviewing journal articles on diving and hyperbaric medicine. Research for articles and protocols has forced me to investigate international standards for recreational, scientific and military diving. Consequently, I have an improved understanding of the history and background of standards I am required to follow as a dive professional as well as their shortcomings. Through discussions about dive incidents I have gained an appreciation for the point where sound judgment and caution must be exercised in the implementation of standards and corrective measures. Investigations of breath-hold incidents, and more recently diabetes-related scuba fatalities, have given me greater insight into nuances of diver fitness considerations and contraindications to diving.

Despite the stable of long-term projects, I have found standard workdays are rare. An unexpected morning call to DAN medical services may result in a full afternoon of related discussion of a diving incident. I may start the day updating the breath-hold incident database, sit in on a NASA teleconference, research lab equipment for future studies, conduct telephone interviews for articles in the afternoon, and test a portable ultrasound device in the DAN physiology lab before leaving to play a sand volleyball match with coworkers. This spontaneity and variety complements long-term projects, which provide discrete objectives and a tangible sense of progress.

Perhaps unexpectedly, work in research communication has been most valuable and satisfying. Scholarly editing and writing tasks have challenged me and caused marked improvement in my technical writing, presentation and professional communication skills. I anticipate these transferable skills, which are useful within the context of my internship, will also be applicable to other professional and academic contexts.

The internship has also offered some opportunity for hands-on work. I participated in DAN flying after diving (FAD) hyperbaric chamber studies for both dry and wet dive protocols. I have a souvenir for my efforts – a transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE ultrasound recording) showing bubbles passing through the right side of my heart on their way to my lungs to be filtered. Approximately twice a month I assist with FAD studies as a data collection assistant and occasionally I serve as a tender for the wet dive protocol. I also audited the Dive Medical Technician (DMT) course in September and will soon receive training in the use of a portable ultrasound device.

As I near the end of my internship, I look forward to completing some writing projects and helping out with DAN activities at the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA) trade show. Regarding what comes next, I am still in the midst of figuring out what type of post-graduate work I would like to pursue. No doubt, whatever combination of marine science, medicine and applied physiology I pursue, the skills I have acquired while working at DAN will serve me well.

DAN Internships