One of the best things about scuba diving is that it can be enjoyed by people with a wide range of abilities, but as with many other sports, there are some aspects of diving that demand a certain level of health and fitness. Learning to dive and advancing your training often present a rewarding set of challenges, but one requirement that remains a sticking point for some is filling out the Recreational Scuba Training Council (RSTC) Medical Statement.
While divers with no contraindications to diving fill out forms with all “No’s” and breeze right into training, those who mark “Yes” often hesitate to answer honestly out of fear their training will be delayed or cancelled. Lying on a medical form may seem harmless, and it can be tempting, but outcomes will be better for everyone involved if you just answer each question truthfully. To show that honesty really is the best policy, here are a few myths and misconceptions about dive medical questionnaires debunked.
“This form was designed to bar people from diving. It’s just another barrier to entry.”
This one is absolutely true, but the misconceptions lie in the reasoning behind why this barrier to entry exists. Medical questionnaires were designed to be barriers to entry because scuba diving isn’t for everyone. These forms were not designed to exclude certain classes of people or exclude people with everyday ailments, they were designed to prevent people with specific medical conditions from being injured or dying. Even if you have no known issues, diving is an activity that can result in serious injury or death. Because certain medical conditions can increase this risk dramatically, it would be unacceptable for anyone to assume this level of risk just to participate in an optional, recreational activity. To keep prospective divers as safe as possible and prevent people from setting themselves up for disappointment or a dire situation, the RSTC created its Medical Statement, which outlines minimum health standards required for diver training.
“If I mark ‘yes’ on the form it means I will be disqualified from diving.”
This is not entirely true. While some health conditions are absolute contraindications to diving, most are only relative contraindications, which means you just need to obtain medical clearance to dive from a physician before you hit the water. For many, marking “yes” on a form just means a little more paperwork and going to get a dive physical. Uncovering a problem along the way might save your life — even if you do not dive. Getting a physical exam before starting dive training is always a good idea, regardless of age, fitness or medical conditions. It also presents an excellent opportunity to discuss your medical conditions and how they may affect diving with your physician. If you do decide to dive, your physician can explain ways to better manage your condition and decrease your risk of having a problem while diving.
“This dive operator is using medical forms designed for training to prevent me from going on a dive trip simply because of my age.”
Dive professionals have the right to refuse service to any diver for any just reason, and if a dive professional is using a dive medical questionnaire to justify their decision, they are not doing it to discriminate based on your age, your weight, or their personal opinion of your health status. Although most dive professionals aren’t physicians and therefore cannot give medical advice, they can and should assess what risks you may present to yourself and others if they take you diving. If dive operators refuse to take you diving based on something you indicated on a medical form, it is likely a decision made with your best interest and the best interest of others in mind. Unfortunately at this point there are no standardized medical forms designed specifically for those who want to go on a dive trip; As stated previously, the existing forms present unified standards established to provide consistency in the minimum health standards required for training scuba divers. Asking guests to fill out an RSTC Medical Statement before heading out on a long trip or a trip to a remote destination may not be a perfect solution, but it’s not unreasonable. If requiring all guests to fill out an RSTC Medical Statement is what it takes to get the majority of guests to seek preventative care and have their fitness to dive accurately assessed, it could prevent a tragic accident. If you have a medical condition that may affect your ability to dive, it would be wise to bring along your physician’s evaluation that led to their recommendation in favor of diving. This may greatly reduce your chances of being denied service upon arriving at your dive destination. It is especially prudent to call ahead to that dive operator and submit any medical questionnaire before travel.
“I’m 38 years old and I had childhood, sports-induced asthma. I haven’t had any issues since. Should I mark “no” on this one?”
The short answer is: Mark “yes.” Sometimes issues that present no problems on land may present serious problems underwater. Because the human body was not designed to exert itself at depth for prolonged periods, issues that haven’t bothered you for years could resurface during a dive and cause major problems — like inducing panic, for example. Your best bet is to always get evaluated by a physician before diving. Although childhood asthma may not trouble you in your adult life, it is better to make a trip to the doctor (or in some cases simply a phone call to your regular doctor, who’s familiar with your health history) than deal with the consequences of a diving injury. Even if you are found to still have asthma, your physician may be able to perform test to determine if you can still dive.
“I’ve been prescribed a new medication, so I marked ‘yes’ on that section of the form, but when I went to see my doctor, she says she was not sure how that drug would affect me while scuba diving and says she cannot sign the form. What do I do?”
Often, the underlying problem for which the medication is taken is of bigger concern. Have your physician call DAN. Our doctors, nurses and EMTs are well-versed in dive medicine and are always happy to consult with divers’ physicians about dive medicine. Questions about medications are common and easily handled over the phone, but even if it is determined that you require an in-person examination from a dive physician to find answers, DAN is still able to help. Through our physician referral network, DAN medics are able to refer people around the world to doctors who specialize in dive medicine. With assistance from DAN, finding a doctor familiar with dive medicine is easier than ever before, which means resolution of any “yeses” on your RSTC is easier, too. For physician consultations or for assistance finding a dive doctor near you, call DAN’s medical information line at +1-919-684-2948, Option 2, weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET; our medics are standing by.
Although filling out a medical statement honestly can seem like a huge pain, this pain is nothing compared to the pain you and your loved ones would feel if you were severely injured or killed in a dive accident — especially if that accident could have been avoided. Sticking to the truth on your medical form just keeps you and those around you safe, which is why there’s really no reason to stress over a “yes.”