What is Wilderness Medicine?

Wilderness medicine is the practice of medicine in remote places where outside rescue might not be available and professional medical support, back up and facilities (doctors and hospitals) may be hours, if not days away and it is necessary to be able to go beyond first aid training.  There are many skills in this field that also are useful in humanitarian work, disaster relief, foreign clinic work and other such situations, and there are many parallels between expedition and military medicine. Whether a lay-person trained by WMT is taking on the role of “medic” or if a doctor or nurse is on the team, the following points must be born in mind:

  1. Pre-travel risk assessment and contingency planning is crucial
  2. A suitable medical kit must be devised, sourced and packaged to take into the field and you need to know how to use it
  3. A team “medic” needs to be appointed and suitably trained. WMT Explorer courses include authorisation to buy POMs (prescription only medications) so they don’t need to consult anyone else in order to complite a medical kit. Professional medics should undertake additional specialist training that covers, as appropriate to their destination, high, cold and hot related special medical problems.
  4. The medic needs to be confident to “watch and see” for some medical complaints or to recognise more serious conditions that need evacuation (and how urgently this should happen). Expedition medicine goes beyond first aid so we are able to treat some conditions without resorting to evacuation and indeed to allow some injuries to heal in the field, especially on more remote, extended trips where it’s plausible to “sit tight”.
  5. The ability to improvise is vital as you’ll never have all the supplies, gadgets, purpose-made splints etc. that you’d like to have.
  6. Now, many travellers will have telephone or even email contact with the outside world via satellite and this can be enourmously useful to be able to seek medical advice. Of course it helps if you can relay the patient’s condition in a clear, structured and systematic way (having learned from WMT how to take a medical history, perform a physical examination and measure vital signs).