Doctors are accustomed to treating patients in offices, clinics and hospitals. But how should they react when someone gets hurt while hiking, camping or biking on a remote trail in the great outdoors?
To help prepare future physicians to practice medicine in these environments, Wake Forest School of Medicine offers the wilderness medicine interest group to medical students.
The elective group offers interactive and educational activities that focus on practical approaches to emergency situations, as well as the basic skills needed in limited conditions far from traditional medical care.
“Wilderness medicine encompasses more than people realize,” said Henderson McGinnis, M.D., associate professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Most associate it with something extreme like climbing Mt. Everest, but wilderness medicine can be utilized when an injury occurs from a day-hike in the mountains or an allergic reaction to a bee sting at the park.”
McGinnis leads the group’s outdoor lessons in diverse locations ranging from Hanging Rock State Park to Pisgah National Forest to Bailey Park.
Emergency scenarios are staged and teachings vary by location and can include demonstrations on search and rescue tactics, ways to engineer medical equipment from ordinary items and how to treat cold- and heat-related illnesses and insect and animal bites.
“The goal of the wilderness medicine interest group is to challenge our students to use their best judgment and teach them how to confidently lead a group in a crisis situation,” said McGinnis. “It’s open to all medical students, not just those hoping to practice emergency medicine. The experiences and knowledge students take away from this group help to increase their confidence, adaptability and familiarity with non-textbook situations.”
First- and second-year medical students make up the majority of the interest group that meets once a month.
In 2008, Wake Forest School of Medicine started the Southeastern Student Wilderness Medicine Conference, which is annually hosted by a medical school in the southeast. The conference offers medical students the opportunity to learn different wilderness medicine scenarios in various environments and new techniques from a broad range of experts.
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