For Your Health
For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

Into the wild: Emergency Medicine hosts wilderness training for med students

On a rainy April weekend in eastern North Dakota, UND’s Department of Emergency Medicine within UND’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS) hosted its firstever Advanced Wilderness Life Support (AWLS) course for medical students at Turtle River State Park.

From April 29 to May 1, Dr. Justin Reisenauer, Dr. Jon Solberg, and several faculty members from the Department managed the course, which involved 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, after the event. “We saw an opportunity, with this training course, to provide the medical students handson 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, which went extremely well, utilized training models to teach students how to “assess and stabilize victims in austere environments,” outside of the clinic/hospital. In so doing it introduced 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 were outside in the elements—rain and shine, but mostly rain,” 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. It was an absolute blast.”

UND students and a multi-disciplinary collection of faculty from the region worked 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 was 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 Coloradobased firm that trains and certifies health providers of all backgrounds, first responders, and other agencies in wilderness medicine.

“Loved doing this,” smiled SMHS grad and emergency medicine physician in Ortonville, Minn., Dr. David Collins. “It was fun to give back to the program that put so much into me. I’m looking forward to future events like this.”

“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 saw 25 eager studentphysicians participate in the course and 10 faculty from the Department who also partook. We are extremely excited to educate students on these skills and provide them with a rare educational opportunity that not only will benefit them, but others whom they will encounter throughout life.”