September 15, 2020
Dear WMS Members,
I’m writing as the snow melts off the broken tree branches from a record early winter storm in Colorado. Wildfires burn in California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. People have lost homes and acres of wilderness destroyed. The SARS-CoV2 pandemic has closed schools and businesses. The injustices of our society are on the forefront of national conversation and movement. These are stressful times. Times that call for escaping to wild places. Times that call for resilience. Times that call for self-care. In short, good times to be involved in wilderness medicine. Because, where else do you get the physical and mental health benefits of nature, the resilience and flexibility training of back country survival, and the break from the daily stresses of our front country practices? Answer: the WMS!
The WMS has demonstrated our organizational resilience with a move to greater virtual engagement, staring with the phenomenally successful summer conference. Our ability to interact online has created several new opportunities for members. The Fireside Chat
series launched last week with our first research discussion. I hope to see you at the next one, “Meet the President,” when Membership Council Co-Chair Dr. Emily Sagalyn will interview me (RSVP here). Finally, the Women in Wilderness Medicine (WiWM) committee began a Women’s Leadership series of monthly interactive zoom seminars. Contact WiWM committee chairs
for more info on this empowering program.
My way to reclaim a sense of calm and wellbeing in chaos is to run the trails behind my house or spend a weekend in the mountains. Apparently, I’m not alone in seeking peace outdoors. The pandemic and our national stress level has people out in record numbers. Trailhead parking lots overflow. Bikes, stand-up paddles boards, and camping gear are sold out around the country. More people in the wilderness means more need for the kinds of skills WMS offers. Remember too, throngs of potentially unprepared backcountry travelers pose risks to our SAR colleagues. These teams of volunteers may not have the PPE needed to protect them, or they may be stretched thin by record numbers of calls. WMS members can help by educating friends, family, and local organizations about backcountry safety in general, and regarding COVID-19 specifically. Wilderness Medicine Magazine
has a whole section
devoted to COVID-19 in the outdoors with practical advice for all.
Your WMS board is taking COVID-19 precautions seriously. We don’t want members unnecessarily exposed, or to be disease vectors. Therefore, we are creating new safety guidelines for our student electives and Adventure CME programs. Student electives will be held virtually, with local small-group, in-person activities, if possible. The Canyonlands Adventure is rescheduled for spring to get safety procedures in place. Although our international offerings are on hold for the time-being, check our web page for updates. With appropriate precautions, we will continue to learn and play together in the backcountry. In the meantime, our virtual winter meeting will bring you the best and latest in wilderness education and research remotely.
Regardless of the pandemic, as president, I pledge to move the WMS forward. It’s worth reiterating the values statement the board of directors endorsed at our last meeting:
The WMS recognizes the importance and benefits of a diverse and inclusive society. We are committed to fostering an environment of acceptance that is equitable to all. We recognize the rights of all individuals to mutual respect without bias based on differences of any kind. We value our individual and group differences. Our commitment to inclusiveness will be evident in our policies and procedures, as part of our strategic plan, and within our organizational goals.
The board is developing new conference and membership policies to support these values. In addition to the goal of improving diversity and inclusion in the society, I will continue to promote research and innovation. I began my term on the board as Research Committee chair and I strongly believe that without research the field of wilderness medicine cannot move forward. The WMS is the only wilderness medicine organization that funds grants, offers a research forum for presentation of the latest findings, and issues evidence-based guidelines to help wilderness medicine practitioners. We will continue to grow these programs.
The board has made significant progress on our Society goals set three years ago at a strategic retreat. Those achievements include a new organizational and board structure, updated bylaws, additional staff, improved marketing, a successful regional conference in Stowe, GME fellowship certification, and a growing membership. The Wongchhu hospital construction project is complete. We are adding new specialty pre-conferences. Given these accomplishments, the board will be revisiting our three- and five-year goals soon. We want to hear from members about what you want from the WMS. Please feel free to reach out with your ideas and aspirations. This is our society.
Despite the current climate of uncertainty, I feel privileged to serve you as president. Muriel Strode’s words seem apt for leading the WMS in these times. She says, “I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.” I count on you, WMS members, to help me build that new trail, masks on, through the smoke, and together, for a strong WMS future.