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Why Take A Wilderness First Aid Course

By wildmedcenter photos by Terratribes

I think everyone benefits from a basic understanding of how the body works and how to take care of it; after all, we've each got one. From this perspective, everyone should take our Wilderness First Responder course. Like everything else associated with education, you need an effective curriculum, well-written study and reference materials, realistic training supplies (first aid kits, an full-sized anatomical torso, a full-sized skeleton, litters, backboards, etc.) trained teachers, and, ideally, intrinsically motivated students. We supply everything but the last component.

Unfortunately, most people are busy and taking time to learn about their bodies and first aid falls pretty low on their "to do" list. Enter extrinsic motivation: college or professional credit, job requirement, being involved in—or hearing about—an accident or incident that "could have happened to you" and not knowing what to do, etc. Once extrinsic motivation enters the picture, it defines the course parameters. For example, if you want to be a trip leader for outdoor company and they require a Wilderness First Aid course, then it's likely that you will take the course they sponsor or recommend. At the same time, it's doubtful that you will seek out and take a more intensive Wilderness First Responder course; after all, a WFR is longer, more expensive, and will require a greater investment on your part.

See how complicated the answer is to this apparently simple question?

Moving on....
One way of looking at the answer to the above question is rephrasing it to mean "what skills will I REALLY use on a trip?" Well, that too, depends....

If you are on a day hike in moderate terrain in a neutral environment with young healthy people and have cell phone coverage (and you bring a fully-charged phone), you probably don't need to know a whole lot of first aid or bring a much with you in terms of first aid supplies. You'll probably benefit from knowing how to—and carrying supplies to—prevent and treat blisters and treat minor wounds, headaches, and pain. If you are untrained and reading this article, you probably already have some idea how to do all this, along with what to carry: a few band-aids®, some water, mole skin® or tape, and ibuprofen. If it's more complicated than that, you can always call for help. Right? Maybe.

The problem with this way of thinking lies in the variables. If the terrain is dangerous (lightning, avalanche, rock fall, big rapids, etc.) it's likely that an accident will be more serious and require more training and supplies than you have to address. If the environment is too hot, cold, wet, dry, etc., you'll need more training, and perhaps more supplies to prevent (ideally) and treat (hopefully) any environmental problems that arise. If you have kids, older adults, or people with health issues, you may not have the knowledge or supplies to help them.

What about the unexpected? What happens if someone gets stung by a bee, has a life-threatening allergic reaction, can't breathe, and you don't know how to treat them or don't have the materials (epinephrine auto-injector)? They will likely die before help arrives. I guess this might extrinsically motivate you to take a course but it won't help your friend....

The bottom line is that you don't know what you don't know. We have spent years and years as guides, outdoor instructors, rescue team members, and wilderness medicine instructors. We work very hard to develop a curriculum, delivery methods, materials, and instructor training program that remains unparalleled in the industry. And, we continue to research and improve every day. Take a tour of our website. Look at our individual medical courses and materials, think about our mission, vision and educational philosophy, take a look at the faces and experience of our instructors, visit our online store and see how our curriculum influences the design of our first aid packs, first aid kits, and the supplies we sell, and then come take a course from us. If you are interested in your wilderness medicine education, you'll be happy you did.

Okay. So what course should I take?

  1. If you are—or want to be—a guide or outdoor instructor, take our Wilderness First Responder course.
  2. If you are intrinsically motivated, take our Wilderness First Responder course.
  3. If you want to take a course but don't know which one to take, take our Wilderness First Aid course. Our WFA course will help you define both your needs and your motivation. Many students go on to take our Wilderness First Responder course months or years later.
  4. If you want to take a Wilderness Advanced First Aid course, take our Wilderness First Responder course UNLESS you are complete extrinsically motivated by a very specific job requirement.
  5. If you already have an urban EMT certification (or are a physician, physician assistant, nurse, or medical student) and want to further your knowledge, take our Wilderness EMT Module. An urban EMT course, or advanced medical training in an urban setting, DOES NOT prepare you for preventing or assessing and treating problems in a remote setting.

If you work—or want to work—in remote areas as part of a rescue or relief team take either our Wilderness First Responder course or, if you are already a medical professional (EMT, physician, physician assistant, nurse, etc.), take our Wilderness EMT Module