Department of Emergency Medicine hosts wilderness life support training for medical students

This weekend, the Department of Emergency Medicine within UND’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS) is hosting its first-ever Advanced Wilderness Life Support (AWLS) course for medical students at Turtle River State Park, 30 miles west of Grand Forks.

From April 29 to May 1, 2022, Dr. Justin Reisenauer, Dr. Jon Solberg, and several faculty members from the Department will host the course, which involves hands-on workshops and lectures to teach future medical professionals how to respond to emergencies outside of the typical reach of the 911 service call area.

“Dr. Solberg and I share a passion for wilderness medicine and taught a Wilderness First Responder course a few years ago that was very well received,” said Reisenauer, an emergency medicine physician certified in “wilderness and expedition” care. “We saw an opportunity with this training course, to provide the medical students hands-on medical training and application of wilderness medicine knowledge that they usually don’t receive in their four years of medical school education.”

According to Reisenauer, the course will utilize training models to teach students how to “assess and stabilize victims in austere environments,” outside of the clinic/hospital. In so doing it will introduce students to the concept of searching for “hidden victims” with avalanche beacons, controlling simulated life-threatening bleeding events with improvised tourniquets, and transporting injured persons over difficult terrain.

“We’ll be outside in the elements—rain or shine,” laughed Solberg, who chairs UND’s Department of Emergency Medicine, “getting muddy while building splints from skis and poles and constructing rope-litters to transport patients.”

UND students and a multi-disciplinary collection of faculty from the region will work together to build camaraderie and try to earn the coveted AWLS certification badge, Solberg said.

“Although some of the medical curriculum is hands-off for first- and second-year students, this portion is very hands-on. The skills learned here will undoubtedly help our students and faculty save a life outside the hospital someday.”

This course is not an elective available through the SMHS but an extracurricular opportunity for medical students not offered anywhere else in the state. The certification provided by the course was developed by AdventureMed, a Colorado-based firm that trains and certifies health providers of all backgrounds, first responders, and other agencies in wilderness medicine.

The day will begin at the park’s historic Woodland Lodge before moving outside, whatever the weather.

“There are no other options for this type of training locally,” concluded Reisenauer. “The UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Department of Emergency Medicine have graciously funded this training. We have 25 eager student-physicians who will be participating in the course and 10 faculty from the Department who will also partake. We are extremely excited to educate these students and provide them with a rare educational opportunity that not only will benefit them, but others whom they will encounter throughout life.”