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Wilderness First Aid (WFA) Training

Op-Ed: Has the Time Come to Standardize Wilderness Medicine Education and Training?

By Zac Adair November 22, 2021

Wilderness Medicine Training

There is no shortage of wilderness medicine education providers in this country. From organizations that offer education and training for Wilderness First Responder (WFR) and Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certifications to those that offer train-the-trainer programs, a simple online search reveals a ton of options — especially when the search is focused on a specific geographical region.

What’s striking about all the wilderness medicine training and certification taking place is that none of it is nationally regulated. None of it adheres to commonly accepted industry standards that govern what’s being taught or how wilderness medicine education and training are being delivered. On the other hand, the training and certification EMTs receive is regulated on a state-by-state level and must meet minimum requirements as set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Wilderness medicine training, while loosely adhering to a similar curriculum, is officially overseen by, well, no one. That being said, standardization and oversight aren’t completely absent. Several organizations have attempted to fill the void with a variety of education programs, courses, guidelines, accreditations, and oversight committees.

Wilderness Medicine Accreditation

A Mismash in the Making

Historically speaking, first on the list is the Wilderness Medical Society (WMS) — a nonprofit founded in the early 1980s to encourage, foster, support, and conduct activities that improve the scientific knowledge of human health activities in a wilderness environment. WMS offers three types of advanced wilderness medicine-related certification that have a “continuing education” focus and accreditation connection. The organization’s Fellowship in the Academy of Wilderness Medicine (FAWM), Diploma in Mountain Medicine (DiMM), and Diploma in Diving and Marine Medicine (DiDMM) are all provided in accordance with standards set in part by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME).

There’s also the fledgling Wilderness Medicine Education Collaborative (WMEC) — an ad hoc group of medical educators whose interest in providing guidance on content for wilderness medicine courses has resulted in the creation of minimum guidelines and scope of practice (SOP) documentation for Wilderness First Aid (WFA), Wilderness Advanced First Aid / Advanced Wilderness First Aid(WAFA/AWFA), and Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training. While the work of the collaborative (whose members include leaders from SOLO Wilderness Medicine, Wilderness Medical Associates International, and NOLS Wilderness Medicine, among others) has resulted in a robust set of SOPs, its influence is nonexistent outside those of us who actively choose to look beyond ourselves for best practices. In other words, without accreditation, there’s no real motivation for anyone offering wilderness medicine education to seek out the WMEC. And without a formal structure and an administrative arm, the WMEC has no enforceable authority or meaningful influence.

Speaking of accreditation, closer to home for those us in outdoor and experiential education, following a rapid increase in the number of adventure programs in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it became imperative that outdoor experiential education programs develop standards of program quality, professional behavior, and appropriate risk management. Enter the Association for Experiential Education (AEE), which responded to that need in the early 1990s by developing comprehensive standards for common practices in the adventure education industry, becoming the nation’s first recognized accreditation provider focused on outdoor and adventure-based experiential education programming.

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Wilderness Medicine Training in North Carolina

By Office Admin January 20, 2015

Wilderness Medicine Training

img_0977Working in remote settings has its challenges. From the lack of a quality connection to the Internet and having to find alternate ways to ‘go to the bathroom,’ to not being able to find a doctor precisely when you may need one, working remotely takes on all new meaning when you’re outdoor educator or backcountry wilderness guide. And while there’s nothing we can do for you here at the National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) about the Internet connectivity issue, we sure as heck can train and prepare you or your staff for medical emergencies that happen five or 500 miles away from the nearest hospital.

If you take a moment to really think about it, the practice of wilderness medicine has been around a lot longer than anyone really knows. We venture to say that its existence predates 1,800 BC, when the Code of Hammurabi first set out fees for surgeons and punishments for malpractice. Since the very first opportunity to provide lifesaving care in a remote setting, wilderness medicine has been a thing.

Of course, no one on the battlefields of Elam’s Invasion into Mesopotamia ever yelled for a ‘wilderness’ medic. Regardless, “the advancement of wilderness medicine has been closely connected to military exploration/operations throughout history, and not surprisingly, this remains in many ways as true today as it was a thousand years ago,” wrote George W. Rodway in a paper titled The Foundations of Wilderness Medicine: Some Historical Features.

Fast forward to 2015, and NCOAE — through its affiliation with the Wilderness Medicine Training Center — has emerged as a leading provider of wilderness medicine training in North Carolina (and as a custom training provider, anywhere in the world). More to the point, we’re the only provider to offer a Hybrid Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training and a Hybrid Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training, all under one roof. What’s this ‘hybrid’ thing we’re referring to? Good question. Read on, grasshopper.

For people interested in receiving training and certification in the administration of wilderness medicine but can’t get away from home or work for weeks at a time to participate in such trainings, hybrid training allows you to (more…)

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