A Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service Publication
VIMAS is a cooperative program between
the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program & the University of the Virgin Islands' Center for Marine and Environmental Studies.
Marine Careers in Medicine and Health
Modern explorations of the ocean have led to the discovery of new organisms and
compounds that can be used to improve human health. At the same time, our use of the
ocean depths for both work and recreation has created the need for medical
professionals capable of treating illnesses such as decompression sickness (the bends).
What types of medical and health careers are marine related?
'- Several medical careers are closely related to the marine sciences. More and more physicians
are treating diving-related injuries and seafood-borne illnesses. Medical researchers investigate marine
compounds and products for their potential use in fighting cancer or other illnesses. The marine environment
plays an ever-growing role in the area of medicine and medical research.
A wide variety of marine organisms and the substances they produce have great medicinal value. Extracts
of marine flora and fauna yield numerous compounds that are used as antibiotics, tumor inhibitors,
coagulants and anticoagulants. Other substances act to treat heart or nerve ailments. Coral skeletons
have been used in bone replacements, where they function more like human bone than do the plastics that
are generally used. Corals, sea anemones, sponges, mollusks, other invertebrates and even sharks and
stingrays have all been found to contain substances that are useful in medicine. And yet we've been able
to examine only a fraction of all of the marine organisms that have potential human health applications and
Many marine organisms can be used in food and nutrition science. Supplements and food additives can be
derived from marine products and used to improve human nutrition and health. Researchers also
investigate the toxins that can be found in fish and shellfish, such as ciguatoxins (the cause of ciguatera fish
poisoning). Marine researchers may also recommend guidelines for handling and preparing seafood in
order to protect human health.
Medical professionals with knowledge of injuries that affect people who work and play in the water are also
needed. Recreational and commercial SCUBA divers as well as researchers working in deep water can
have accidents that require specific knowledge of depth-related injuries and their treatment.
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-oA All medical professionals require a college degree. A two-year degree is usually necessary for
lab assistants and technicians. A bachelor's degree is required for nutrition researchers. A master's or
doctorate degree is required for marine product researchers. Of course, a medical degree is necessary for
any practicing physician.
High school students can prepare for a career in any medical or human health related field by completing
as many science courses as possible, including biology, chemistry, and physics. Computer courses are
Financial aid, work study and scholarships are often available to help pay the cost of completing the
bachelor's degree. Check with the college or university of your choice for more details. Most universities
offer scholarships, fellowships, assistantships or internships for studies at the graduate level.
^ Marine Medicine and Health Careers
Diving physiologist studies the physiological effects of diving on humans.
Environmental health services sanitarian studies the causes and effects of seafood-borne illnesses related
to human handling problems; plans and conducts programs related to sanitation; promotes development
and maintenance of health standards; helps to develop laws and regulations related to the handling,
dispensing and consumption of seafood.
Marine biomedical specialist applies medical knowledge to unique health problems encountered by
people working in marine environments.
Marine food scientist studies nutritional value, preparation and preservation techniques, marketing, and
new uses for marine food resources.
Marine pathologist studies tissue from diseased or dead marine organisms to identify pathogens.
Marine products chemist- studies diverse marine organisms in hopes of identifying compounds with medical
Marine toxicologist detects and analyzes toxic substances in the oceans.
Marine veterinarian studies and treats illnesses and injuries of marine mammals, fish and invertebrates.
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For more information, call or write: Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Services (VIMAS), University of the Virgin Islands Centerfor Marine and
Environmental Studies, No. 2 John Brewer's Bay St. Thomas USVI 00802 (340) 693-1392 or RR#2 Box 10,000 Kingshill, St. Croix USVI 00850
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