The Polar Medicine Unit is responsible for screening persons participating in the Australian Antarctic program before departure and providing healthcare services to them throughout their time in the Antarctic.

Pre-departure medical screening is a vital tool for doctors to identify people at risk of developing medical conditions that would be difficult to treat in Antarctica. This screening is essential, as medical evacuation from Australian Antarctic stations cannot be guaranteed due to their inaccessibility by air and sea for many months of the year.

Expeditioners may engage in extreme physical activity at equivalent altitudes that may well exceed 3500 metres, may experience temperatures as low as −40˚C, and may make flights in unpressurised aircraft to 3000 metres. All must be sufficiently agile and physically fit to enable them to climb ladders and nets on the sides of ships and climb into and out of ship's boats and inflatable craft which move considerably in heavy swells.

Personnel may be in the field (off station) for periods up to three months, isolated on stations for up to 9 months, or on marine science voyages of long duration. The stress of isolation, environmental conditions and extreme remoteness from major medical facilities are important considerations and it is therefore mandatory that applicants be in good physical condition and free from any disability or impairment which could adversely affect their health, restrict their activities or create a burden for others on the expedition.