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Wilderness first aid for the experienced outdoor leader

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

It seems a bit of a nuisance, recertifying training you only might have to use. Spending a big chunk of money and evaporating a week of your life to justify that your fit to lead people in the outdoors. Is it really necessary? Of course it is, we all know that. Does it have to be that long? Well I guess so….right. I mean you want to reinforce the skills you might need right? Absolutely! If it wasn’t such a pain. Sitting in a classroom reviewing A&P, frost bite, head injuries, making a sling, blah blah blah.

How do we establish which is the product we want? We want a course that is fun. A course that will keep us engaged and challenged, give us new insights and skills. But we don’t want to be belittled, or have things be over complicated. We want to get through each day feeling like our questions are answered, we have got value out of our time and money. And finally, we need to feel empowered to know how to manage ourselves to protect our clients and our business and family!

I hear these things over and over. Its a balance for all of us. As a practicing Paramedic and an outdoor leader/educator I am constantly tweaking, adjusting……managing to improve.

There are some things I feel happen after taking any course but may not be regarded as much with wilderness first aid courses. There are also some things I find of high value, as an instructor, to highlight to clients so it makes a difference when the time comes. lastly, I identify foundational subject matter that is worth being diligent and, for lack of a better word, anal retentive about. Overall, the company should have a proven track record and formula that it uses to deliver the following details.

Delivering invisible content.

Nuance, some things stick in your head that feed Jiminy Cricket. You may not realize it but your probably making daily operational decisions based on intuition. Playing to this concept an instructor works on things you may not be able to see.

  • Many educators use their own anecdote to help their students gain real life experience without having to live it. Instructors that are practicing medical providers and first responders have a depth that is unparalleled to instructors coming from outdoor experience alone.

  • Situational awareness comes from education as well as experience. Honing in on how to develop this is key to connecting to the didactics and applying them.

  • Training helps with preplanning. From building your medical kits to planning, communications to route planning. Instructors should help students develop a better understanding of exposures. Prolonged evacuations, shelter in place considerations, heuristics etc.

High value targets

Experience and training has been paramount on helping me understand the ideal vs real. Within the curriculum there should be things that serve the student depending on the applied discipline or demographics. Also the curriculum needs to deliver systems that reinforce organized critical thinking. The training company accomplishes this by ensuring the following.

  • Providing focused subject matter to ensure overall best possible outcomes.

  • Practiced approach to allow for increased scope of detailed assessment and treatments.

  • Organizational systems to reduce overall stress.

Supportive, constructive progression.

It can be an intimidating environment applying new skills in a multi faceted way in front of your peers. Anxiety and frustration eat up a lot of band width. That makes learning very hard and performing harder. The environment needs to be rich, diverse and inclusive. Instructors should place a high value on the following.

  • Make it fun. Being dynamic, using games, lightning rounds and media.

  • Use positivity to keep the mood light and unthreatening.

  • Be approachable by progressing in manageable increments while keeping the end goal firmly at hand with the group.

  • Always look for ways to engage the group. Asking questions, encourage sharing of stories and role model respectful humor.


So how did I end up where I am and with the company who's product I teach or.....sell? When I did decide to pursue EMS I chose the school that had the highest pass rate for the licensing test for Paramedics in Alberta, and it is the most expensive. Prior to EMS I had taken two EMR courses, a CSPS course, WMA WFR, OFA3, and audited a slip steam course. Since starting my EMS career I continued onto take Wilderness Advanced Life Support and ICAR's Diploma in Mountain Medicine hosted by the University of Utah and I'm still learning. I have landed with Wilderness Medical Associates. And, as noted, it is from a lifetime of exposure.

Its a tough choice, or is it? Really just get it done so you can get on with your life. But take it seriously. A that course posting fits in well with your schedule is something of importance and convenience is of consideration. Whatever system your getting trained in, is what your paying for and will ultimately serve you when you need it.

Good luck out there! Especially to all the instructors. Every course is different. To be honest I haven't been teaching Wilderness First Aid that long, but I've been running courses for over two decades in challenging environments and with diverse clients. I think all of us do it to a high degree of passion and Wilderness First Aid is far from death by power point. Rolling into another shoulder season means the start of training for the next.

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