Great things have been accomplished since Paul Auerbach, Ken Kizer and Ed Geehr conceived the idea for the Wilderness Medical Society in 1983. Early leaders identified areas of interest that have become pillars of the curriculum for wilderness medicine education, including CME programs, medical school rotations, and outdoor programs. They have formed the foundation for advancement and recognition in academic wilderness medicine fellowships around the globe. The commitment of the WMS to embrace academic excellence and to deliver innovative services to its members shines through with the Fellowship in the Academy of Wilderness Medicine (FAWM). In addition to the Society’s regular, annual summer and fall conferences, it also sponsors topic-specific medical conferences (Desert, Dive, Global Health, Disaster, Sports, etc.) and the quadrennial World Congress in Wilderness Medicine. Additionally, the Diploma in Mountain Medicine (DiMM), the Diploma in Dive and Marine Medicine and the Diploma in Disaster Medicine are offered.
The written word has been a cornerstone of the WMS since its early days. Today’s publications include the Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, in which is published the widely acclaimed set of Practice Guidelines for Emergency Care, the online Wilderness Medicine Magazine as well as the Educational Presentation Series, Community Education Lecture Series and Teaching Simulations. Development is underway on new, comprehensive online learning modules.
The WMS is embracing the future through efforts to diversify membership across disciplinary and cultural boundaries and, through expanded cooperative partnerships with many organizations and companies, solidify its position at the center of the growing worldwide community of wilderness medicine.
Mission and Philosophy
The mission of the Wilderness Medical Society is to encourage, foster, support, or conduct activities to improve the scientific knowledge of the membership and general public in human health activities in a wilderness environment.
Founded in 1983, the Wilderness Medical Society (WMS) is the world's leading organization devoted to wilderness medical challenges. Wilderness medicine topics include expedition and disaster medicine, dive medicine, search and rescue, altitude illness, cold- and heat-related illness, wilderness trauma, and wild animal attacks. WMS explores health risks and safety issues in extreme situations such as mountains, jungles, deserts, caves, marine environments, and space.
Society members have a long-standing commitment to education and research. WMS sponsors accredited continuing medical education conferences that combine exceptional educational presentations with a variety of hands-on workshops. The Society publishes a peer-reviewed medical journal, a quarterly newsletter, educational presentation series on wilderness medicine topics consisting of slides and a text, and practice guidelines for wilderness emergency care. Each year the Society awards research grants, advancing academic careers and expanding the knowledge and understanding of wilderness medical issues. WMS also fosters Student Interest Groups (SIGs) on seventy-one medical school campuses.
In addition to practicing, investigating, and teaching wilderness medicine, WMS members share a sense of adventure—from exploring deserts to climbing mountains, from scuba diving to white-water rafting, from skiing to windsurfing, from adventure travel to volunteer-relief work. The Society's members love the outdoors, have deep respect for the environment and our precious natural resources, and actively support an Environmental Council.
WMS is a 501(c)3 organization, designating it a charity for public good with a responsibility to educate and serve the public, and indicating that donations are tax deductible. To fund the unique WMS programs and publications, the Society relies on members (new and renewing), fundraising events, and charitable gifts and donations. Only with member and public support, can WMS continue to meet the Society's responsibilities and serve the world beyond its membership.
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. At the time of the move, WMS contracted with Jim Ingwersen to provide technical support and 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. In 2013, Ryan Ingwersen joined the staff as Editor, primarily assisting with the Wilderness Medicine Magazine. Robyn Bonini became the Chief Operating Officer in 2017.
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. Working closely with Jim Ingwersen to program the website, 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). Each year, during its Annual Meeting, the WMS performs a Convocation Ceremony for new fellows.
Diploma in Mountain Medicine
The Diploma in Mountain Medicine (DiMM) is an exciting program designed to train the participant in the essentials of caring for patients in the technical mountain environment. It has set the standard over the past 10 years in Europe and other parts of the world for education of doctors, mid-level providers, nurses, and medics in mountain medicine and rescue. The Wilderness Medical Society is partnering with the University of Utah and University of Colorado to introduce this exciting program in the USA. Medical commissions of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA) and International Commission for Alpine Rescue (ICAR), together with the International Society for Mountain Medicine (ISMM), established minimal requirements for these courses in 1997.
Diploma in Dive and Marine Medicine
The Diploma in Dive and Marine Medicine (DiDMM) is a continuing medical educational program for doctors, mid-level providers, nurses, and medics who work in or aspire to work in the Marine Environment. The required coursework is an ideal blend of didactic and practical education in Marine Science, Dive, and Hyperbaric medicine, along with the skills required to make one proficient in this challenging and exciting world of water.
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.
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 2007 in Aviemore, Scotland, and was cosponsored with the International Society of Mountain Medicine.
The 6th World Congress was held once again in Whistler, BC in 2012.
The 7th WMS/ISMM (International Society of Mountain Medicine) World Congress in Wilderness and Mountain Medicine was held in Telluride, Colorado in 2016.
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). Known as Wilderness Medicine Magazine was expanded in breadth and content under the guidance of Editor-in-Chief Dr. Christopher Van Tilburg (2003 – 2012) and Managing Editor Jonna Barry - even receiving the 2008 Apex Publication Award for Excellence in Design and Layout. In 2012, Wilderness Medicine Magazine became an online publication and is now fully incorporated into the Society's website.
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 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 was the Editor-in-Chief of Wilderness & Environmental Medicine from 2001 until 2011. Since that time, Dr. Scott McIntosh, Dr. Martin Hoffman and Neal Pollock, PhD. have served as Editors-in-Chief.