Advice to Nurses, Paramedics & Other Health Professionals on Becoming an Expedition Medic and Appropriate WMT Training
Updated January 2017.
WMT invites nurses and other healthcare professionals including paramedics and physiotherapists with an interest in wilderness medicine to attend our courses. This page aims to help you choose which course(s) are most suitable for you between our Explorer series and Medic series of courses.
Qualifications & Accreditation
Many nurses, paramedics, OHPs and laypeople travel abroad as “expedition medics”. Expedition medic is very much a British term (that’s replaced the military rooted term expedition medical officer – EMO) to denote the person that has special responsibility for the team’s health. What you can do medically in the field (and who you can treat) is a matter of consent, insurance cover and your level of training, experience and qualifications (and confidence). Usually, but not always, only large (or well funded) expeditions will take on dedicated “medics” where health care is the primary role and if they do, they may prefer to appoint a doctor. This is not always the case. WMT worked with sailor Chay Blyth’s BT Global Challenge ‘round the world yacht race teams many years ago. His philosophy was that it was easier to teach a top sailor some medical skills than teach a doctor to be a competitive sailor!
So, where the expedition is going and what it is doing has a bearing on its requirements for someone to fulfil a medical role. Other, perhaps smaller, organisations may look for people with a broader skill set who, for example, will be the expedition leader and the “medic”, or the team climbing guide and medic, or the yacht’s navigator and the medic as examples. Youth expedition companies such as World Challenge are often short of adult female staff for trips with girls, so being a women, a qualified mountain leader and a nurse or paramedic with specialised WMT training could be the ticket to adventure!
As you may have already gathered, it is important to appreciate that there is no “qualification” as an expedition medic. The closest that comes to this arguably is the Diploma in Mountain Medicine (DiMM) – see www.medex.org. Don’t be confused by course titles such as WEMT either (wilderness emergency medical technician). WEMT or EMT does not have any legal status like nurse or paramedic does – and a course provider can call its courses what it likes. It’s just marketing! (See also the WMT pages on Accreditation under the Advice tab).
The take home point is that the opportunities for joining an expedition as the medic may come down to how skilled/qualified you are in the outdoors or in other ways suitable to the trip (like being a skilled camera operator for a film project) in addition to your medical background and talents. Expedition medic jobs are either voluntary, expenses only, paid or you will be expected to contribute to cover the cost of your participation. It would be hard to make a living as an expedition medic. It’s more realistic to do this in parallel to a paid career or during time off and holidays.
Which WMT course?
Your current level of medical experience and training will partly determine which WMT course is most suitable for you. Please see the detailed course content for each programme. However bear in mind that unless you are a doctor, you will need to get a prescription to obtain suitable drugs and medications – POMs – to be able to put together a useful expedition medical kit for overseas use (and you’ll need the training to know how to use POMs). WMT will provide you with this training and authorisation on all Explorer courses and it is valid for 2 years, but this facility is not granted and the detailed use of POMs is not covered on our Medic courses that are mainly attended by doctors.
Explorer courses include Far From Help (2 days non-invasive training that covers oral medications, antibiotics etc) and Advanced Medicine (4 days that includes Far From Help plus 2 days of more advanced training including stapling wounds and giving i.m. injections.
Nurses and paramedics with experience or for whom the POM facility isn’t important (or after doing an Explorer course as many do first) are welcome to join any of WMT’s Medic courses which are well within the comprehension of qualified healthcare professionals of all disciplines but if you are fresh out of college the best starting point is probably an Explorer course. Medic courses range from 2 mountain medicine and expedition medic themed courses, to 5 day events in Chamonix, France (winter and summer), to week-long Morocco expeditions and week-long Expedition Skills courses (also for Explorers with either Far From Help or Expedition Medic as the 2-day WMT medical module).
How do I find an expedition job after my WMT training?
We are often asked “how do I go about finding an expedition job?”. On Medic courses we discuss researching expedition opportunities and give you a database of expedition organisations as a starting point and we talk more generally about how to get into the “expedition network”. These topics are not covered on Explorer courses. Medic courses count towards CPD credits (and there’s no reason why Explorer courses can’t as well in some circumstances).
The skills, knowledge and inspiration acquired from any WMT course will help prepare you to operate independently as the team medic or as part of a bigger expedition medical team, say with Raleigh International, MSF or other large expedition organisation or endeavour. Indeed, Raleigh would require you to have undertaken a specialist wilderness medicine course like those offered by WMT.
Before you head overseas to act as an expedition medic, if you are a registered medical professional, you are advised to inform your professional defence body of what you intend to do in a medical capacity and be sure you are properly insured and indemnified.
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