No- this isn’t another post about books (though I did enjoy the book of this title by Jon Krakauer and I love the soundtrack by Eddie Vedder). Rather- I wanted to let you all know what I will be up to for the next few weeks.
Wilderness Medicine is, well, kind of what it sounds like- providing acute medical care in various outdoor environments. Being an outdoor person, this was an area of medicine I’ve been rather interested in exploring. My school doesn’t offer a Wilderness Medicine elective but many schools do, and they generally welcome students from other schools.
A number of months ago I set to, looking at a number of Wilderness Medicine electives offered by other schools and organizations. There are quite a few options, but one, run my U Mass, really caught my eye.
I should interject at this point to say that, due to the timing of my PhD defence, I started the clinical years of medical school half a year off schedule with most students. Unfortunately, that meant that when I started looking at wilderness electives, I was a bit behind the eight-ball timing wise.
A number of months ago I sent an e-mail to the organizers of the U Mass Wilderness Medicine elective enquiring if they took students from other schools. They replied, kindly informing that they did but that the course usually fills up a year in advance (and it runs from the end of April for three weeks). Somewhat disappointed, I set up my schedule for the remainder of fourth-year medical school, sans wilderness medicine elective.
Fast forward to three and a half weeks ago when, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from the program coordinator asking me if I was still interested in the Wilderness Medicine elective. After some frantic shuffling of my schedule I was able to say yes, and have been hustling to get myself prepared ever since.
Tomorrow morning I leave New Jersey to head to Salt Lake City (and to think- I was there less than 3 months ago). After spending a couple days meeting up with friends and seeing the sights of SLC, I meet up with the students, residents, fellows, and faculty who will be participating in the Wilderness Medicine elective.
The main reason I was particularly interested in the U Mass elective was because it is a 3 week elective taught almost exclusively IN the wilderness (unlike some other programs that do a lot of classroom-based learning and then have excursions into remote areas).
The elective is broken up into 3 components, an alpine section, a river section, and finally a desert section. In each we receive faculty taught lectures, participate in scenarios, and hear (and give) student lectures (my topic is diarrhea and communicable diseases). I’ll write more when I return, but this is what I know for now.
The alpine section
We head up into the Wasatch Mountain range where we set up a base camp that we will be living in for the next 6 days. We snowshoe in with all our gear (apparently about 50lbs in our packs, plus pulling sleds, and then camp on snow for the next 5 nights. Here we learn how to live in the alpine environment, the basics of mountaineering, avalanche training, how to lift and move patients with spinal injuries, as well as attend lectures on topics relevant to the alpine environment.
The river section
After snowshoeing out of the mountains we have a day to recover in Salt Lake City before heading to the Green River for the river section of the course. Over the next 5 days we raft down the river (camping on the banks each night) and learn about water-associated injuries (drowning, of course), as well as other injuries and illnesses that occur in the bush, including fractures (and improvised splints), dislocations, wilderness dermatology, mammalian injuries, and evacuations.
After a transition day in Moab (where we can apparently opt to participate in outdoor activities of our choice, or perhaps enjoy a needed day of R&R), we then head to the desert portion of our course.
The desert section
Having had a chance to check out Moab, we head to Canyonlands National Park. Here, we hike into the desert (in smaller groups, so as to decrease our impact), and set up camp for 4 days. We meet daily for lectures on topics such as snakebites, heat illness and injuries, communicable diseases, wilderness toxicology, and other relevant topics while also learning skills such as orienteering and mass casualty training.
Throughout the course, in addition to many lectures, we participate in 12 “scenarios” which further train us for practicing medicine in the wild. There will be 12 medical students, 4 residents, and 2 Wilderness Medicine fellows, as well as faculty.
I’ll be interested to see what happens when it comes to camp dinners. They asked if anyone had “dietary restrictions”, with a special shout-out to vegetarians. While I’ll be willing to eat things that I usually don’t consume (rice and beans, for example), I really hope I’ll be able to largely avoid processed foods, grains, and vegetable oils… we shall see. I’m also a little nervous that I’ll get some foul looks for my choice of footwear. The packing list suggests bringing hiking boots (or maybe hiking shoes) for the desert and river portion: I have neither, and imagine that trying to get some and break them in would not be a good idea (not to mention that I am kind of opposed to thick soled heavy hiking boots). Instead, I have my minimalist trail running shoes and my vibrams… I’ve climbed a 13er in Colorado with them, hopefully I can hack it carrying a heavy pack!
So there you have it- starting Monday morning (maybe sooner) I’ll be off the radar for large chunks of time (though you wouldn’t know I was on the radar with the frequency of my blog posts). When the course is done, my best friend will be picking me up in SLC and I’ll be heading back with her to Colorado for a vacation before coming home to start a radiology elective in June. On the way back to Colorado we plan to spend a couple days in Arches National Park- since I’m sure my appetite for the outdoors won’t yet be sated.
More posts to come!