Our History

WMS Footprints: past, present, and future
Jonna Barry and Blair Erb, MD

The Beginning
The Wilderness Medical Society was conceived by three California physicians, Drs. Paul Auerbach, Ed Geehr, and Ken Kizer. Their efforts to integrate sound principles of medical practice with the wilderness setting led to the formal incorporation of WMS on February 15, 1983, as a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation in California. Its specific purpose was “to encourage, foster, support, and conduct activities or programs concerned with life sciences which may improve the scientific knowledge of the membership and the general public in matters related to wilderness environments and human activities in these environments.”

The founders moved quickly to develop a framework within which to accomplish its goals and identified areas of focus: administration, curriculum content, meetings, and publications.

After reincorporation, the Society’s bylaws were revised in 200. He WMS received the IRS Tax designation 501(c)(3), classifying the Society as a “public charity for the public good,” for service beyond the WMS membership, making the Society eligible for tax-deductible donations. 

Originally based in Mill Valley, California, in the home of the first WMS president Dr. Ed Geehr, the fledgling society recruited volunteers for administration. Janet Geehr, served as secretary to the Society. Suzanne Kizer offered part-time secretarial support, handling a mountain of correspondence generated by an article about the WMS concept in the AMA news section of JAMA.  

Dian Simpkins, the first employee, handled all aspects of this developing society from her home in Point Reyes Station, California, until the Society needed fulltime administration. In 1992, a link was established to the American College of Sports Medicine for support services. Administrative offices were moved to ACSM headquarters in Indianapolis, where Jim Whitehead became Executive Director with support from David VanDerWege and Dian Simpkins. Mr. VanDerWege was named Executive Director in 1996. In 1999 WMS reincorporated in Colorado and moved its headquarters to Colorado Springs. By the Spring of 2002, the staff included David Just, Executive Director; Dian Simpkins, Director Program Services; Jennifer Mariano, Membership Coordinator; and Jonna Barry, Managing Editor.

In January 2008, the WMS opened new headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, with Dr. Loren Greenway as Chief Executive Officer assisted by Teri Howell. Jim Ingwersen, longtime Colorado Springs WMS webmaster, joined the staff as IT Director. Jonna Barry remains Managing Editor of the Society’s publications in Colorado Springs.

Academy of Wilderness Medicine
In the summer of 2005 the Academy of Wilderness Medicine began to take shape under the direction of former Executive Director David Just and WMS Board member Dr. James R. Liffrig. Dr. Liffrig became the first director of the Academy and developed the core curriculum. The commitment of the WMS to embrace academic excellence and to deliver innovative services to its members shines through in this dramatic new initiative.

The Academy is a modular system of adult education, open to all the WMS members, that organizes the broad range of information in the discipline of wilderness medicine. The backbone of the Academy is its core curriculum. This repository of wilderness medicine topics is standardized for content and format. The curriculum is intended to serve all Society educational activities through program design, curriculum review, lesson and topic materials, and outcomes as assessment.

Society members enroll in the Academy’s Registry of Wilderness Medicine and, by completing a pre-established 100-hour wilderness medicine curriculum, accumulate credit toward becoming a Fellow. Once the requirements are successfully completed, Fellows will have the distinction of being registered members of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine and entitled to use the designation Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine (FAWM). During the 2010 Annual Meeting in Snowmass, Colorado, WMS held its third FAWM Convocation of new fellows.

Curriculum Content
Building on their original ideas, early leaders in the Society developed a needs assessment questionnaire to identify areas of interest that have become pillars of the wilderness medicine continuing medical education programs and FAWM criteria today. These include: hazards of environmental exposure, cold and head injury, altitude illness, dive medicine, trauma, white-water injury, search and rescue, resuscitation, survival techniques, hazardous marine life, mammalian bites, venomous bites and stings, infectious diseases associated with travel, medical fitness for wilderness sports, nutrition for wilderness activities, and expedition medical planning. Recommended minimum course topics for Wilderness First Responder were developed and added to the WMS program.

Emphasis has been on credibility of the WMS educational programs. Having received accreditation in 1984 for its meetings, the WMS continues to receive accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. All WMS educational programs are now planned with Academy of Wilderness Medicine Fellowship in mind.

World Congress
Wilderness knows no national boundaries. Under the leadership of Dr. Blair D. Erb, the Society began its program of quadrennial World Congresses to review the status of wilderness medicine activities around the world. 

In 1991, the 1st World Congress, held in Whistler, BC, attracted 531 participants from 18 countries and set the stage for cooperation among other organizations from around the world. Cooperative alliances were formed with related international groups, such as the International Society of Mountain Medicine, the International Society of Travel Medicine, the International Commission for Alpine Rescue, and the Austrian Society for Altitude, Alpine and High Altitude Medicine.

The 1995 2nd World Congress, held in Aspen, Colorado, recognized Dr. Franz Berghold, founder of the Austrian Society for Alpine and High Altitude Medicine, for his international work, by awarding him the World Congress Award. In 1999, the 3rd World Congress in Whistler was attended by 570 participants from 27 countries, and Dr. Bruno Durrer, leader in mountain rescue in Switzerland, was recognized with the World Congress Award. The 4th World Congress in 2003 was also held in Whistler and awarded the World Congress Award to Drs. Urs Wiget and Peter Hackett. The 5th World Congress was held October 3-7, 2007 in Aviemore, Scotland, and was cosponsored with the International Society of Mountain Medicine. The 6th World Congress in 2012 will be held once again Whistler, BC.  

The written word has been a cornerstone of the Society since its early history. Wilderness Medicine, the official newsletter of WMS, made its debut in January 1984 (aka The Wilderness Medicine Letter), and has been published quarterly since then. It was edited respectively by Dr. Ed Geehr (1984 – 1986), Dr. Howard Backer (1986 – 1991), Dr. Eric A. Weiss (1991 – 1994), and Dr. Karl Neumann (1994 – 2002). Today it’s known as Wilderness Medicine (WM) magazine and has expanded its breadth and content under the guidance of current Editor-in-Chief Dr. Christopher Van Tilburg (2003 – present) and Managing Editor Jonna Barry.  WM magazine received the 2008 Apex Publication Award for Excellence in Design and Layout.

Position statements regarding wilderness medicine practice were completed under the editorship of Dr. Ken Iserson in 1987, with a second edition in 1990. These position statements evolved into the WMS publication, Wilderness Medical Society Practice Guidelines for Wilderness Emergency Care, edited by Dr. William W. Forgey, now in its 5th edition.

Thanks to the untiring efforts of Dr. Paul Auerbach, the Journal of Wilderness Medicine became a reality in 1987, with Chapman and Hall, Ltd., as publisher. Under the editorship of Dr. William Robinson (1995 through 2001), the Journal took on a new name, Wilderness & Environmental Medicine (WEM) and published with Allen Press through 2009. Elsevier, the world's leading publisher of scientific and educational material, became our publisher with Volume 21.1 (March 2010). The Journal is available online, searchable through PubMed & ScienceDirect, and offers online manuscript submission and peer review process. Dr. Robert Norris has been the Editor-in-Chief of Wilderness & Environmental Medicine since Vol. 12.2, 2001. Dr. Scott E. McIntosh will be stepping into the Editor-in-Chief's position in 2011 for Vol. 22.1 and beyond.
The development of an educational slide series began in 1990 under the guidance of Drs. William Robinson, Ken Zafren, and Peter Hackett. The slides covered a variety of wilderness medicine topics, written by doctors for doctors, medical students, and allied health-care professionals. The slides became available for purchase in 1992. During 2000 and 2001, with guidance from Dr. Luanne Freer and Dr. David Townes, all eleven presentations were updated by the authors. In 2002 the slides were converted to PowerPoint presentations to suit the needs of our members. Dr. Brad L. Bennett has been the Editor-in-Chief for the lecture series since 2004 and oversaw the revisions for all eleven original topics and the development eight new ones.

Combining Your Profession With Your Passion
In 2008 a record number of research abstracts were presented at both the Annual Meeting. Student Interest Groups (SIGs) are still one of the fastest growing segments of our membership. The WMS Educational Lecture Series will be available to purchase by the end of 2008. Our journal, Wilderness & Environmental Medicine is fully searchable online and offers members online CMEs for answering questions on specific articles. The Society’s website, WMS.ORG, has been redesigned from top to bottom. The award winning WM magazine features news, medical updates, and articles on every aspect of wilderness medicine.

Every year the Society’s programs expand and new goals are set. The Academy of Wilderness Medicine, only several years old, has far exceeded expectations with over 800 candidates. WMS conferences, programs, and publications are praiseworthy—they stimulate and edify WMS members, from the founding board to our most recent colleagues, all of whom have combined their professional commitment with their love of the outdoors.