Introduction to Undersea Medicine Canada

There are thousands of commercial, scientific, harvesting and aquaculture, and recreational divers across Canada who require medical care by diving physicians. Until recently however, there were no regular diving medicine courses available in Canada outside of the military. Interested physicians generally needed to travel abroad for training, and although many courses are of good quality, they do not address Canadian diving regulations and safety standards, diver medical forms, or focus on the nuances of Canadian diving practices. This reduces the value of such courses to Canadian professionals.

The non-profit educational organization ‘Undersea Medicine Canada’ (UMC) was established in 2016 to offer courses in diving and hyperbaric medicine designed for Canadian physicians. Although physicians are the target audience, hyperbaric nurses and certified hyperbaric technologists (CHTs) will also benefit from these courses. International physicians are also most welcome to attend UMC courses and have greatly enriched previous courses with their knowledge and experience.

Level 1 ‘Introductory Course in Diving Medicine: Fitness to Dive’

Next Level I Course, 18-22 Sept 2023 in Quebec City

Registration Opening 1 May, 2023

What: An international faculty of physicians and scientists specializing in Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine has been assembled to present the 6th CSA Z275 Level 1 Introductory Course in Diving Medicine: Fitness to Dive. This will be the last Level 1 course offered until the fall of 2025, as a Level 2 Advanced Course will be offered in 2024.

Where: The course will be held in Québec City, QC at the Québec Aquarium, 1675 Avenue des Hôtels, Ville de Québec, QC G1W 4S3. A block of rooms has also been reserved at the very pleasant Hôtel Sépia, 3135 Chemin Saint-Louis, Ville de Québec, QC G1W 1R9 which is conveniently located less than 500m walking distance to the Aquarium. A corporate discount has been secured and includes parking, a daily hot breakfast, and WiFi for $139 + tax per night. We would recommend booking early, as rooms will only be held for the course until 15 Aug 2023. Call (418) 653-4941 and tell the booking clerk that you are with the Undersea Medicine Canada diving medicine course, Group ID: UNDERSEA 23. You can also visit their website at

When: This 5-day course will take place from 18-22 Sept 2023. The course has a maximum course load of 24 participants and will include occupational tours and site visits. The complete course schedule is posted elsewhere on this website.

Prerequisites: A Physics Pre-Instruction Package (PIP) will be sent out to course participants at the time of registration. As there is not enough time to teach the entirety of diving physics and gas laws during the course, all participants must complete this diving physics package prior to arriving on the course. There will be a brief 1-hr review lesson the first morning of the course for any questions.

Cost: The cost for the Level 1 is course will be $1,725.00 CDN, which includes 15% GST ($1500 for the course + $225.00 GST). All course materials, tours/site visits and transportation are included in the fees, as well as accreditation and CME credits (see below). A morning coffee break and snack, as well as catered daily lunches are also included.

Pre-Course Seminar: Although no previous knowledge in diving medicine is required for the Level 1 course, there are significant differences in the level of knowledge and/or experience that course participants arrive with. Some have no absolutely no background in diving medicine, diving physics or gas laws, while others are avid recreational divers or have taken previous Level 1 courses and are re-certifying (if required for their job or their province’s rules and regulations). Although the material taught is aimed at participants with little to no knowledge of the subject, there are usually a number of very knowledgeable and experienced physicians taking the course which often drives the depth of questions and conversations. This has led to some ‘deer in the headlights’ moments for participants who do not have the same degree of knowledge and experience. Finding a way to bridge this gap has been mentioned in past course evaluations.

As a result, we have decided to hold an optional ½ day pre-course ‘Overview of Diving’ this year on Sun, 17 Sept 2023 from 12-5 pm at the Sepia Hotel for an additional $100 fee; lunch is included. Topics will include: diving terms/terminology, types and range of diving, an in-depth introduction to diving physics and gas laws, an overview of diving physiology and pathophysiology, and recommendations for additional reading. The setting will be more relaxed and there will be ample time for questions.

Accreditation: Upon successful completion of this course, physicians will qualify as a CSA Z275.2-15 Level 1 Diving Medical Examiner and can have their name listed with the Diver Certification Board of Canada (DCBC) to conduct commercial divers medicals in Canada. In addition, this 1 credit-per-hour Group Learning program has been accredited by the Canadian College of Family Physicians (and the Québec College of Family Physicians) for 35 MAINPRO+ CME credits. The CCFP course ID number is: 198335-002. Cross-over CME credits are also available from the Royal College.

If you have any future questions, please contact Dr. Debbie Pestell at, or by phone at: (902) 225-8214. Finally, as all lectures will be provided to course participants on a USB data stick, it is strongly recommended that you bring a laptop computer with you for review and study purposes before the course exam.

COVID-19 Safety Protocols

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of our lives forever. Holding the Level 1 and Level 2 Diving Medicine courses virtually through Zoom is not an option because as occupational medicine courses, 25% of the course content must be ‘hands-on’ (demonstrations, site visits, tours, small group presentations, etc). Without the live/hands-on component, we would lose our accreditation and CME credits from the College.

As the start date of the Level 1 course approaches in Sept, we will follow whatever protocols are required by the Quebec Public Health Dept, as well as any additional steps that may be needed to keep everyone safe. This will likely mean a rapid swab of all course participants and faculty on Day 1 of the course +/- masking in the classroom according to individual comfort levels. This plan of action at the start of our last Level 1 course in Oct 2022 averted an outbreak and cancellation of the course, as to everyone’s surprise and dismay, 2 course participants tested positive for COVID during swabbing and had to withdraw. More details will follow as we get closer to the course date.


Next Level 2 course to be held Spring 2024

About Our Directors

Dr Debbie Pestell is the Medical Director for Undersea Medicine Canada. She served in the Royal Canadian Navy for 21 years, the last ten as the Diving and Submarine Medicine Consultant for the Canadian Forces after having completed a fellowship in diving and hyperbaric medicine with the US Air Force and US Navy, and a Master’s Degree in Public Health at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Since retiring from the military in 2011, she has worked in the Hyperbaric Medicine Unit at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, NS and provides medical support to commercial divers and diving operations across the Maritimes. Dr Pestell teaches diving and hyperbaric medicine courses internationally, and is the Past-President of the Canadian Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Association (CUHMA),

Dr Neal Pollock is the Scientific Director for Undersea Medicine Canada. He has long-standing ties to Duke University and Divers Alert Network (DAN), both in Durham, NC. He conducted research at Duke in the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology between 1997 and 2016, and served as DAN Research Director from 2008 to 2016, as well as the continuing medical education course director. His academic training is in zoology, exercise physiology and environmental physiology. His research interests focus on human health and safety in extreme environments, including all forms of diving. He is currently an Associate Professor in Kinesiology at Université Laval in Québec City, QC and is developing research at the Centre de medicine de plongee du Québec, Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis, QC. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Canadian Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Association (CUHMA).

If you have any further questions or require additional information, Dr Pestell can be reached at or at (902) 225-8214.

Group Photo

Introductory Course in Diving Medicine – Fitness to Dive, Halifax, Nov 2016