Most divers know about Divers Alert Network (DAN), but what I’ve realized over the past years from teaching scuba and being a DAN intern is that most of my fellow divers don’t realize exactly how much DAN contributes to the diving community. We all think of DAN as the place that gives us dive insurance, but how many of us knew that they are sending interns around the world to collect data for research on safe diving? Or to hyperbaric chambers to assist in research that gives data to the dive industry so that agencies can collaborate and come up with safe diving practices?
That is exactly what I got to do last summer. For four months I had the privilege of going to DAN headquarters and received training on all things DAN and then went to the DukeUniversityCenter for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology. While there, I had the opportunity to learn a variety of research techniques, participate in continuing education courses through DAN, go diving, help run studies, and meet the great staff at DAN. I’d love to share with you my experiences and how valuable a resource Divers Alert Network is.
The first week of my internship, all the interns went to DAN headquarters in North Carolina, where we got to take a tour of the facility, meet the staff, had lectures on dive physiology and physics, and DAN provider training. We had a lot of fun and definitely learned a lot from experts in the field of diving. This is when I realized exactly how much more DAN had to offer than just dive insurance and provider classes.
At the end of the week, we all went to our respective locations around the world, the Cayman Islands, Canada, Florida, North Carolina, Mexico and Texas to start collecting data on dives and assist in beginning other research projects. Everyone got to be a part of Project Dive Exploration (PDE) which collects data from your average Joe Diver (that includes you!). To participate in PDE, you send your dive profiles from your computer to DAN along with some information that you would normally put in your dive log and the research team at DAN keeps track of the characteristics of all the safe dives completed. Anyone can send their dives in to DAN and be a part of valuable efforts to help evaluate safe diving. Information is available on the research portion of DAN’s website.
My summer was spent at the Duke Hyperbaric Chamber. I enjoyed learning the state of where diving research is and what direction things seem to be heading. Learning transthoracic echocardiography (TTE) was one of the highlights of the summer. We all as divers learn about decompression illness and that this is from nitrogen bubbles in our blood. Over the four months I spent in North Carolina, I learned TTE which is like an ultrasound for your heart. Instead of seeing a baby on a screen like we all think of when we hear an ultrasound, this is a video of your heart. Dive researchers use this tool to detect bubbles in your heart after a dive or after altitude exposure. This tool is being utilized in a flying after diving study to determine the safe intervals between diving and flying.
Watching actual trials and getting to do hands on research application such as testing equipment for future studies, learning TTE and getting an introduction to Doppler ultrasound were some of the great things that I had the opportunity to learn, and I wish I could get more of. A NASA study and the Flying After Diving Study were the two studies I got to watch trials of and assist with, which really gave me a lot of experience seeing so many different aspects of research, from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, which approves research with human subjects, to actually running the study and analyzing the data.
Getting to see the chambers at Duke was also incredible. Being a scuba instructor, and having the opportunity to learn about treatments and how chambers work was very enlightening not only for my personal knowledge, but I feel much better educated when teaching future courses. Even though during one of the trials someone was unfortunately bent, getting to watch the treatment of symptoms and see the symptoms progress and regress was incredible. I also believe that understanding the protocols that are gone through to determine treatments was also very valuable.
One of the most rewarding experiences was the chance to dive in a chamber. If you have never been in a chamber, it is an experience you don’t generally want to have, as it means you are probably injured, but to give you an idea of the experience, as you “dive”, the temperature gets very warm and you start to sound like Mickey Mouse. When you start to ascend from your “dive” the temperature gets very cold.
At DAN, I had the opportunity to go through the instructor course for the Dive Emergency Management Provider. I felt that this certification was very valuable and really enjoyed gaining the knowledge and ability to teach others. I’m excited to be able to offer the variety of courses this certification allows me to teach. In addition, I also had the opportunity to participate in the course development session for the On-Site Neurological Assessment course. I enjoyed being involved in the development of training materials. I really got into being able to contribute to something that individuals will be able to utilize and help keeping divers proactive in safety and assistance measures.
I also helped the medical department with updating their chamber information. I think that having the list updated on a regular basis is key as I learned that there are chambers even in DAN’s database that are no longer in existence or no longer accept divers. The general public may not have that information, and thus should definitely call DAN if there is ever an emergency.
Another valuable experience was the creation of the freediving incident database. As freediving is a growing activity, it seems important to separate these accidents from scuba and record them in a database specifically for freediving. DAN has kept a scuba injury and fatality database for some years now and relies on input from divers in our community who know about an injury or fatality. Over the past year and a half, my interest in freediving has peaked and I had the opportunity to take on this project and begin to record freediving incidents. It was a tremendous project looking through many online searches and listservs, but I feel like I only tackled the tip of the iceberg. DAN always welcomes reporting of any incident, whether scuba or freediving, and I highly encourage you to report all incidents so that DAN may compile the data as they release a report integrating this information and allowing us to be aware of risks associated with our sport. I firmly believe that this database should be maintained and will hopefully contribute to research study formation.
This internship has been an incredible experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’ve learned so much from everything. I’ve met people that I could not imagine having met otherwise, and have definitely become motivated in my future endeavors in the directions I am interested in pursuing. DAN has provided an incredible opportunity that I hope many many more people get the opportunity to experience and hope that it inspires more people to consider dive research an important aspect to the sport and at least consider volunteering their time to participate in research studies if able to.