Interview: Danielle Tosi, MD, Expedition Medicine MD and Female Polo Player. Exclusive: One World Cinema

September 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Q: Sharon Abella, RN:  What is your educational background?  How did you become involved in expedition medicine?

A: Danielle Tosi, MD:  I attended boarding school at Choate Rosemary Hall, and by graduation, had the interest and confidence to travel internationally, independently.  At Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. I developed educated awareness and experience in global politics, philanthropy, and international travel, and completed  Pre – Medical requirements.  Having traveled and studied in Asia and Europe, and being athletically inclined,  I envisioned combining international travel, sports, science, and humanitarianism, with a career as a medical doctor.

By completion of Anesthesiology Residency at Columbia University, I was experienced in expedition medicine.  With preparedness to handle medical situations in my travels, I had sailed from South Carolina to Venezuela and Gibraltar to Sicily, canoed on the Amazon River staying in villages in the jungle, volunteered in hospitals in the Caribbean, and trekked on horseback  in South Africa.  Since that time, I developed my career as an anesthesiologist, expedition doctor, and humanitarian. Based in New York City, I travel for international humanitarian medical missions, exploration and adventure, preferably involving sailing, surfing and horseback trekking.

Q: Sharon Abella, RN: Define Expedition Medicine:

A: Danielle Tosi, MD:  Expeditions for pupose of humanitarian work, scientific research, and exploration, that are away from access to organized healthcare in areas of potential hazards usually take a medical professional.  A doctor on an expedition has three roles: to provide medical care,  cope with any medical eventuality without the ability to obtain additional help or supplies, to be a “team member” playing a full role in the expedition aims and providing psychological benefit to the expedition.

A doctor traveling in remote areas with animals such as horses or dogs is also expected to have basic veterinary knowledge and preparedness. It is this diversity of practice and this intersection of medicine and nature that draws individuals to expedition medicine.

Q: Sharon Abella, RN: What countries have you worked as an Expedition Doctor in?  What were some of the challenges and rewards?

A: Danielle Tosi, MD: Countries I traveled in as an Expedition Doctor include:

Ethiopia, Morocco, Kenya, South Africa





Eastern Caribbean, Haiti


French Polynesia, Republic of Indonesia

I volunteer on humanitarian missions for Non Governmental Organizations in underdeveloped countries  providing anesthesia for surgery to children. To this time, I have provided anesthesia for surgery to more than 300 children in underdeveloped nations, volunteered in a United Nations IDP camp hospital, and worked with the US military on a surgical mission to benefit children living in a war zone.  I also took responsibility as a doctor on boating, surfing and horseback trekking trips in remote ocean- wilderness areas. In addition to experiencing various challenging aspects of  practicing medicine in the hospitals, ocean and wilderness of these underdeveloped nations, I faced personal challenges in my journeys. For example,  I was charged at close range by elephants and a rhinoceros while horseback trekking in Africa,  experienced hurricane conditions and seasickness while on the helm of a 50’ sailboat 1000 miles from the East Coast of US in the Atlantic Ocean, slept in a hammock in a hut in the Amazon jungle knowing that a snake bite could be deadly and awakening to mosquito netting completely covered in insects the size of birds, and medically treated myself  in isolated situations without other access to care when stricken with illnesses such as ‘food poisoning’ and high altitude sickness (different occasions) in Africa.

Q: Sharon Abella, RN: What has been your most rewarding experience working as  an expedition MD?

A: Danielle Tosi, MD: I have had many tremendously gratifying experiences for example:

I worked in a hospital in the desert of Jordan, near the border of Iraq on a humanitarian mission with Operation Smile and the US Military during the Iraq war, providing anesthesia for children from Baghdad to have surgery.

Working as MD for Jenkins/Penn Foundation in Haiti UN Refugee Camp hospital after the earthquake, during outbreak of the cholera epidemic.

It is personally rewarding to accomplish a humanitarian mission under the challenging circumstances of practicing  medicine in extreme and remote environments of underdeveloped countries. The work is especially gratifying because it is purely motivated out of humanitarianism and interest, not for profit.

Q: Sharon Abella, RN: What supplies are needed?

A: Danielle Tosi, MD: The medical role includes medical preparedness by choosing medical supplies and equipment for health screening and diagnosis and treatment of any injury or disease that occurs on the trip.

Q: Sharon Abella, RN:  Do you ever have to improvise without the necessary supplies?

A: Danielle Tosi, MD: One of the keys to success in expedition medicine is a doctor’s ability to improvise with supplies and equipment.  Improvising allows a doctor to reduce the load of equipment to carry, or to treat an unexpected injuries.  Improvised solutions are not definitive treatments but are adequate. The point is to plan ahead to be prepared with the right equipment and use it, and to be prepared to improvise using the supplies available when you don’t have the ideal equipment.

From experience of practicing medicine in underdeveloped countries and remote situations, one learns to adapt to the environment and use what is available to provide the best standard of care possible.

Q: Sharon Abella, RN:  Have you thought about working on a film set?

A: Danielle Tosi, MD:  TV, film, and movie projects are getting more adventurous and travel to more remote environments.  In these circumstances it is important to have a medical professional on site.  Many locations do not have medical facilities and an expedition doctor equipped with the latest mobile medical kit and satellite communication can provide the peace of mind to allow a film crew to focus on the production of their project. An expedition doctor provides support, assistance and ensures safety in the outdoor activities of a film crew in the world’s most remote locations.

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SHARON ABELLA:  Q: How did you get involved in playing Polo?

A: Danielle Tosi: I got involved playing polo in Hawaii on the Northshore of Oahu where I have a home. I have always loved horses and riding and several years ago, I started taking polo lessons at Hawaii Polo Club.  Soon after my first lessons, I leased and purchased polo ponies so I could practice and play in games there.  After learning to play in Hawaii, I extended my polo experience to the East Coast where I have horses and play in the Hamptons and Palm Beach.  I’ve also experienced playing polo in Argentina.

Q: Sharon Abella: Why do you prefer to  play in mixed tournaments vs. ladies only?

A: Danielle Tosi: To assemble a team and then compete in a series of tournaments requires relationships  with  professional players, grooms, vets, and farriers. Most professional polo players with an established business on the level of  training and providing horses for sale and use in matches, and training the amateur sponsor or “patron” to play are men.  The professional polo players I most enjoy playing with are the same men who, over the years, have trained me and my horses, to play. It is preferable to  play mixed tournaments with those professionals because we have developed rhythm and strategy that gives me more confidence in and enjoyment of competing in the polo matches.  I enjoy playing ladies polo, but my experience has been limited due to the fact that most tournaments are mixed and the ladies tournaments  are occasional in various locations across the US so logistically more difficult requiring travel with horses. Ladies polo is a fast growing sector of polo, however,  the sport is still dominated by men. There are not many professional women polo players and the highest rated female today is 5 goals, yet there are many men rated with high goal handicaps.

Q: Sharon Abella: What obstacles did you face as a female getting into polo?

A: Danielle Tosi:  Initially I faced and overcame obstacles as a female trying to start playing the US Polo Association matches at Hawaii Polo Club.  This is because when I started playing there it was a small club consisting of all men , very experienced, good, aggressively competitive and playing fast.  So, of course, they did not cater to me on the field, because I am a lady.  When I developed the confidence that I played well enough to join in their games,  I had to convince them to allow me to enter tournament level matches because they “don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Polo has inherent risks of traveling at fast speeds on a horse and physical contact with other horses and players, and is considered to be one of the most dangerous sports int he world. It’s a battle on the field with the players of a team strategizing, riding, and playing hard against their opponents to win.

Q: Sharon Abella: What position on the team has the most responsibility?

A: Danielle Tosi: There are four mounted players on a polo team each referred to as Numbers One through Four. Each position has a different responsibility on the field so that all the team participates and so there is a method and strategy for anticipating what happens in a game.  All positions relate to responsibility of where to be on the field, what to do on offense to make plays for the team, how to apply and maximize speed, when to defend, and what to do on defense.

Q: Sharon Abella: Tell us a little bit about the history of the sport and do you think it will ever gain in popularity?

A: Danielle Tosi: Polo originated in Persia in ~600BC, developed to the modern game in India, Britian and Argentina, and arrived in the US 136 years ago. It was an Olympic sport from 1900-1939. During the ‘20’s and 30’s in America, polo drew large crowds with some matches up to 30,000 spectators and the US was considered the best in the world. Today polo is played in over 70 countries, there are polo clubs all over the U.S. and teams of 36 Universities and matches are again drawing large crowds. Polo is definitely gaining in popularity.

Q: Sharon Abella: What is your most memorable experience?

A: Danielle Tosi: My most memorable experience playing polo was playing at La Dolfina in Argentina.

Q: Sharon Abella: What personality traits are needed to play Polo?

A: Danielle Tosi: Capable, Intelligent, Quick-Thinking, Team Player, Valiant, Risk Taker, Courageous, Competitive, Optimistic, Confident, Reliable, Trusting.

Q: What traits do you look for in a polo pony?

A: Danielle Tosi: Traits I look for in a polo pony: athleticism, good conformation, intelligence and  good temperament (“heart”  to play polo); thoroughbred with endurance for the rigorous game of polo.

Q: Sharon Abella: What is your biggest obstacle while playing?

A: Danielle Tosi: The “CAUTION” sign in my mind.  Embracing risk requires understanding and accepting the challenges of playing polo, and working as an expedition doctor,  in an uncertain hazardous environment. To successfully ride out any hazards requires ability to embrace risk and uncertainty and channel energy into productive actions.

Q: Sharon Abella: Are there any films that remind you of Polo?

A: Danielle Tosi: There is no Polo in film I am aware of, but it would be great to see polo on film with modern technology. Considering this, films that remind me of polo are war films demonstrating man’s connection with horses and the athleticism, courage and heart of men and horses in battle together. Scenes from “Avatar” showing physical and mental connection with animals in playful competition and battle, also reminds me of polo. In the sport of polo, the horses are the main athletes, there is communication where both minds and bodies of both players and horses are working in sync very fast and there is an exhilaration of “flying” on an animal to accomplish goals and sharing that with others in both playful and serious competitions.

“Of Kings and Cowboys” (A romance story and based on polo, which is currently looking for investors)

“War Horse”

“Last Samurai”


Thank you to Danielle Tosi, MD

Article by Sharon Abella


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