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Wilderness First Responder

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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The Three “E”s of Breaking into Outdoor Education

By Stephen Mullaney December 21, 2017

Outdoor Educator Training

For those interested in a career as an outdoor experiential educator, The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education wants to help you get onboard that particular ship.

But as the late comedian Jonathan Winters suggested when he famously quipped “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it,” that vessel isn’t necessarily going to snuggle up to the dock and pick you up. It’s up to you to do the basic footwork — or perhaps backstroke is a better analogy — in order to achieve your career objectives.

(Photo: ©2013 Jaclyn E. Atkinson | Used with permission)

Many people ask us if a formal education is necessary for a career in outdoor and adventure education and we answer that question by posing another: Does a piece of paper make for a master educator? Then we answer our own question by saying, “It depends.”

In the end, it’s you who must decide what role you want to play in the outdoor industry. If your objective is to spend a few years going “wild” as a fledgling field instructor, then just head out and apply for a job. Or let’s say you want to become a leader in a specific area of the outdoor experiential education field. In this case, gobble up some on-the-job experience and a fistful of certificates and get to work.

However, if what you seek is a career as a lifelong experiential educator — with a comfortable salary and maybe some good health insurance — some formal education might be required. The secret is to find ways to get a good education without being (more…)

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Spend Thanksgiving in Patagonia With NCOAE’s 31-Day Outdoor Educator Training

By Office Admin August 29, 2015

Training & Certifications

What are your plans for Thanksgiving? Here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education, we’re expanding our outdoor educator-training program on a global scale and announcing a month-long training expedition that culminates in a Thanksgiving celebration in Patagonia — a remote region at the southernmost end of South America that is shared by Argentina and Chile.

That’s a large leap from our outdoor educator training programs in North Carolina on the Eastern seaboard and Oregon and California out West. But we’re excited to be spreading our wings, and we’re even going a step further by planning a second overseas training expedition next spring — this time to Kenya for a 33-Day Outdoor Educator Instructor Training – East Africa.

But first, back to our Patagonia training. The 31-Day Outdoor Educator Instructor Training – Patagonia is co-ed and targets college students, classroom teachers and novice outdoor educators who are 18 years and older. Tuition is just $6,600. We fly from Houston, Tex., and land in Santiago, Chile, where our local team has already worked out an invigorating itinerary.

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Chile is a land of extremes, from the snow-capped volcanoes of Patagonia and dizzying heights of the Andes, to the driest desert on earth and the extensive southern glacial fields. We’ll be exploring some of the most beautiful mountains and rivers in the world, and we’ll see it with fellow explorers who have the same enthusiasm and zeal for the outdoors and education that you do.

And when it comes to gaining the experience and knowledge to become an outdoor educator, there are few better “classrooms” than Patagonia and the (more…)

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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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