Medicine courses

Wild medicine classes save lives in the backcountry

A few years ago, I was leading a hike in a national park when a client and a team leader sled down from the highest sand dune in the park (a common and generally enjoyable activity in the park). But they had way too much speed and landed on a ring of fire left by the backpackers. We were out of earshot and saw the client not get up after 10 seconds… 30 seconds… and we knew something was wrong. My co-leader shot after her, crushing her elbow on the same rocks. From our vantage point at the top of the dune, we could barely hear them calling for help. The other three leaders on the ridge quickly hatched a plan to descend into the basin without injuring anyone else in the group. We were 2.5 miles from the parking lot (almost a 3 hour walk through mountains of deep, loose sand) and out of cell range.

It was clear the client had a potential spinal injury and had to be restrained and transported by six rotating group members carrying her out of the pelvis via makeshift bedding until a stretcher with sand tires. can reach us. My co-supervisor was in emergency surgery that night for a broken elbow. Looking back, we did everything right with the rescue, which was led by two certified Wilderness First Responder leaders).

I, without any advanced medical training, looked at the rest of the clients in our group and thought, “If any of you get hurt, I don’t know how to protect you. My job was to keep panic-stricken patrons from injuring themselves as we walked towards the park entrance.

I had never felt so helpless in the desert. But I also knew it was under my control to never feel that way again. I took a 10 day course and got my NOLS Wilderness First Responder certification and recertify it every few years.

I’ve learned that there are a variety of classes that will teach you how to deal with everything from a superficial abrasion to a fractured femur to a punctured lung. So here is a summary of the best wild medicine courses for hunters, fishermen, and outdoor adventurers. Determine which course is best suited to your time, budget, and activity level, then sign up. Keep in mind that wilderness medicine is constantly evolving, so even if you’ve taken any of these courses in the past, it’s always a good idea to update your skills and knowledge.

Disclaimer: This guide is not intended to provide medical advice. This is an overview of the standard wilderness medicine curriculum across different levels of certification.

CPR / First aid / AED

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Studies show that the excitement of spotting a deer can skyrocket a hunter’s heart rate. This excitement, combined with intense hunting activity, can put a physically unfit hunter at risk for a heart attack. From the anxiety and excitement of preparing for your shot to doggedly dragging a deer out of the woods, older and less fit people outdoors can be at risk for cardiovascular problems on the road. field, even if they do not venture far.

Even if you consider your outdoor activities to be low risk or in the frontcountry, this is a short course to get you ready to protect your loved ones. And even if you never have to use your CPR / AED certifications (which hopefully don’t), having some basic first aid knowledge will still come in handy.

Core skills

CPR training for adults, children and infants with respiratory insufflations or compression only Stabilize a patient until emergency medical services arrive
How to use an AED Determine the lack of pulse and / or breathing and the next steps to take
Heimlich maneuver First aid basics

Level of commitment: Less than two hours every two years (in person, online or hybrid)

Find a course

Through organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross, you should be able to find a course that fits your location and schedule. It is also likely that your employer offers variations of CPR / AED / First Aid. If this course is a requirement for your job, be sure to check if the online certifications are valid for your employer.

Wilderness First Aid (WFA)

This course might be for you if you are a frequent frontcountry recreationist (car camping, day hikes) looking to build more confidence and knowledge in wild medicine and decision making. Wilderness First Aid builds on your basic first aid skills, but applies them to a wild environment. The main distinction between urban medicine and wild medicine is that in the wilderness the contact time with a patient is longer, the time between onset / injury and final care is longer, the environment is less. predictable and may worsen illness / injury, and rescuers may have to make decisions without outside communication. So prevention is always the first priority.

Core skills

Wound management Head injury, spine injury
Patient assessment system and emergency evacuation plans Epinephrine auto-injector, anaphylaxis
Altered mental state, shock, heat illness, and cold injury Chest pain, abdominal pain, shortness of breath

Find a course

Wilderness First Responder (WFR)

Wilderness First Responder has become the standard for medical certification in many outdoor education and guiding professions. It’s much more practical and in-depth than a WFA certification, and focuses on practical scenarios to prepare you for situations you might encounter in the field. You work with complicated situations to identify problems and dangers, stabilize and treat patients according to your abilities, and develop a comprehensive evacuation plan. This is the course I recommend for anyone taking high risk or extended trips away from cell signal or easy evacuation.

Some key skills beyond WFA and CPR / AED

Decision making, communication with search and rescue, documentation and SOAP notes (summary objectives evaluation plan) Soft tissue injuries, fracture and splint management, and dislocations
Chest trauma, cardiac, respiratory and neurological emergencies Mental health emergencies and psychological first aid
Lift and move patients Thorough head and spinal cord assessment / stabilization
Diabetes Altitude sickness

In your WFR scenarios, you will often encounter patients with a mechanism of spinal injury, and you need to determine whether to maintain spine precautions until evacuation and perform a full body assessment to assess. other potential injuries.

The splint and stabilization of fractures is a crucial part of wild medicine, both to keep the patient comfortable and to work to prevent further injury to the injury.

Level of commitment: One initial, approx. 80 hour course (fully in person or hybrid) with recertification from 2 to 3 years. If you have the time and the resources, this is the course I recommend. While a hybrid option may be more realistic for your schedule, the more practical the practice, the better when it comes to skills that could save a life in a critical situation.

Find a course

Because WFR is a longer engagement with more advanced skills than the courses listed above, enrollment requires a bit more forethought and potentially travel.

Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT)

The WEMT is the highest level of wilderness medical education and is an intensive month-long certification program that is also offered on a semi-annual schedule. With WEMT, you are ready to practice as both an urban health professional and outdoor emergency medicine. It is a course of approximately 200 hours. Obtaining your WEMT certification allows you to advance professionally in wild medicine, and if you have a WFR and are looking to advance in medicine, such as search and rescue, consider upgrading your skills.

Learn more about WEMT

be ready

Along with your medical certifications, your first aid kit (you will learn how to incorporate your wilderness medicine course), and enough food and diapers, there are other things you can do for hiking, hunting, fishing, skiing, biking and climbing in the backcountry safely so you can have the best experience.

Membership of the American Alpine Club

From a “Partner Membership” of $ 65 to $ 100 per year (student, military and family discounts available), you receive $ 7,500 in rescue services, $ 5,000 in medical coverage, and ” access to their rescue cost reimbursement process. For membership fees of $ 250 or more, you are covered for a rescue benefit of $ 300,000.

Garmin InReach

Carrying a satellite communications device, like the InReach, is essential for any backcountry sports or expedition, especially when you need to call for a quick evacuation. With three levels of subscription plans, the InReach comes with two-way text messaging, GPS navigation, location tracking, weather updates, and can be paired with your mobile device. Garmin also makes the InReach Mini if ​​you’re looking for a more compact design.

Trail applications

Know before you go. AllTrails, Gaia GPS, and other relevant apps and websites you recreate (like 14ers.com for Colorado residents) are essential for checking trail conditions and making sure you’re on the right track. Knowing your route and terrain will prepare you to identify when you’ve veered off before you encounter something you’re unprepared for or risk getting lost.

Final thoughts

I keep my medical certificates so that when I go on a trip I can come home with great stories to tell, a sense of accomplishment, and be ready to do it all over again. If you know what backcountry safety looks like, you know what situations to avoid and how to prevent blisters, camp safety hazards, dehydration, and heat-related illnesses (just to name a few. some).

Think about the last miss you had in the woods or on the mountain. If this worst-case scenario had really happened, could you have potentially saved your friend or client’s life, or yours? If you are not sure about that, sign up for one of these courses so that you can tackle the next situation with more knowledge, confidence, and training to deal with the risks inherent in the outdoors. Go out and adventure responsibly.