“Wilderness medicine” has become a hot topic among outdoor educators lately. To me, it is actually pretty simple: the application of universal concepts of health, hygiene, and safety to the backcountry setting.
Courses and Workshops
I can present a variety of workshops on wilderness medical topics, geared to the needs of individual groups. These can be as basic or technical as the backgrounds of participants dictate. Workshops can include certification from the American Red Cross in Wilderness and Remote First Aid and CPR/AED for the Professional Rescuer. For medical professionals, I can also offer CME credit for these programs. I have developed a unique course for challenge course professionals, which covers course safety procedures and the recognition and management of typical challenge course injuries and illnesses. This workshop is offered annually at the ACCT meeting, but can be arranged for individual courses and their staffs as well.
Wilderness First Responder (“WFR”) Courses
A variety of organizations now offer course designated as “Wilderness First Responder” (WFR), designed for those who will be providing first aid on backcountry treks. Many organizations require such certification for their outdoor leaders, although there is no real national standard curriculum for the courses. I have some reservations about WFR courses. There is ample documentation in the medical and the outdoor literature that the vast majority of medical incidents on treks are the common, mundane injuries (e.g. sprained ankles) which are the stuff of any good first aid course. The first aid principles for dealing with these mishaps are universal. What outdoor leaders most need is training and experience in risk recognition and reduction. In my opinion, many WFT courses devote much of their time to the discussion of implausible scenarios, providing short shrift to prevention. In the rare event of a disastrous injury occurring on a trek, I would far prefer having a highly talented leader, with strong judgment and leadership skills and a basic understanding of first aid principles than many of the “WFRs” I have met over the years! The publication link includes a recent chapter from an outdoor education textbook in which I discuss these concepts in more detail.
For many years, I have written a column for Adirondac, the magazine of the Adirondack Mountain Club. The column deals with common backcountry health, safety, and hygiene concerns, and is written for the lay public., Some of the more popular columns are on the publications link. I would be happy to respond to questions about wilderness medicine by email.
In addition to publications in the lay press, I also have published studies in the scientific/medical literature regarding various health issues pertinent to wilderness use. These are more technical and are written mainly for physicians interested in wilderness medicine. My major area of expertise is wilderness water safety, but I have also published studies on climbing harness design, risk management, challenge course safety, and wilderness first aid course content. Click on the logo for the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine to be taken to links for several of my recent wilderness medicine publications.
I have never bought into the almost paranoid fear that our wilderness waters are hopelessly contaminated, and always require treatment before drinking There is ample evidence that the risk of acquiring disease from North American backcountry waters is nil, and that the real way in which disease is spread on treks is within the group from poor hygiene. Sometimes, this entire thing seems like a conspiracy by the manufacturers of those silly filters!
The December, 2003 issue of Backpacker has a great expose on the myth—must reading! There are several quotes from individuals who have studied the issue, including me. In addition, the magazine sponsored its own study of several wilderness waters in the country.
In addition to these articles in the lay literature, I have also published technical studies of backcountry water quality. You can access these through the publication link.
Wilderness Medical Society
The Wilderness Medical Society (WMS) is a group of professionals form a variety of discipolines, bound by a common interest in health inssues related to wilderness use. The society sponsors a variety of educationa programs,, as well as acting as the publisher of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine. I have been an active member of the WMS for decades, making presentations at their meetings and serving as an editorial expert for their journal.