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 the WMS as a nonprofit public charity for good on February 15, 1983. The 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 to accomplish its goals and identified five areas of focus: administration, curriculum content for what was developed into the Fellowship in the Academy of Wilderness Medicine (FAWM), conferences, and publications. The organizational pillars eventually transitioned to 6 areas including membership, conferences, education, research, the Academy of Wilderness Medicine, and Adventure CME.
Emphasis has always been on maintaining excellence and credibility in our WMS educational programs, and in 1984, the WMS received accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). In 2004 the WMS received the IRS tax designation as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and thus membership dues and donations are tax-deductible in the US.
The WMS is embracing the future through efforts to diversify membership across disciplinary and cultural boundaries and through expanded cooperative affiliations with many organizations and companies, solidifying its position at the center of the growing worldwide community of wilderness medicine. We are 4,300 members strong and growing.
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 until 1992, when 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. David VanDerWege took over as Executive Director in 1996, and in 1999 the WMS reincorporated in Colorado, moving its headquarters to Colorado Springs.
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.
The organization went through a significant reorganization after the retirement of Dr. Greenway. Renita Fonseca, CAE, CMP, joined the WMS as CEO in September of 2018 and soon brought on staff members to serve the organization in areas such as conference planning, operations, membership, marketing, communications, and education. With the majority of the team being located in central Texas, the headquarters were changed to Austin in early 2019. With the continued growth in WMS membership and expansion of programs and services, the WMS staff continues to grow to better serve our members.