Volume , Issue

August 21, 2021

As I reflect upon the Wilderness Medical Society and all that it means, here at 7000 ft. in the wilds of Idaho, I am reminded of a 2011 documentary called “Happy.” The authors interviewed hundreds of people and researchers throughout the globe and tried to distill what it is that makes people truly happy (or satisfied, fulfilled, etc). The research identified that having more money and buying more “stuff” does not make your life happier, but these three important components do:

  1. Friendships and regular interactions with friends/family
  2. Intellectual stimulation, such as learning to play music or learning a new language
  3. Doing something to make the world a better place, from picking up microtrash in the wilderness to volunteering for a non-profit

It struck me that the Wilderness Medical Society embodies all three of these elements. We are a community of 4200+ members worldwide with a passion for wilderness medicine education and a shared goal of helping others to be alive in the wild!

Diving deeper, the WMS:

  1. Helps develop meaningful relationships. Whether it’s your next research partner, hiking buddy, travel companion, colleague, or mentor, it’s these bonds with like-minded peers that set our organization apart. We aren’t just a one-and-done event, but rather, a network of individuals who share similar professions and passions. With monthly webinars, social media, and extensive networking times at conferences, it’s easier than ever to make new and strengthen existing connections.
  2. Provides opportunity for you to be intellectually challenged. Are you working on your FAWM, DiMM, and/or DiDMM certifications? Are you attending our events. There is no shortage of great material, offered in so many different ways – the aforementioned certifications, monthly Fireside Chats, online recorded lectures, virtual/in-person conferences, research, and publications such as the Wilderness & Environmental Medicine (WEM) journal and the online Wilderness Medicine Magazine, which all allow you to continually exercise and challenge your brain.
  3. Make a difference in the world. Two key beliefs of the WMS are education and service. This means seeking knowledge and paying it forward, as well as seeing the need and filling the gap. The WMS is a 501c3 non-profit organization that offers myriad ways to make the world a better place. In addition to the thousands of members who protect, nurture, and save lives both professionally and on a volunteer basis, you can also take pride in the involvement of the WMS in the Wongchhu Sherpa Memorial Hospital which is providing quality, accessible healthcare to the lower Solukhumbu region in Nepal. We hope to return to the site in 2022, and I invite you to join us for that Adventure CME trek. We also have committees such as SAR, Global Health, Disaster and Humanitarian, and JEDI (Justice, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) which are working together to tackle a wide array of challenges. Volunteer at a conference, write an article, be a peer reviewer for the journal, serve on a committee, work on a research project, etc. The offerings for involvement and ways to serve the wilderness medicine community are boundless.

So, if you’re looking to improve your quality of life, look no further. The WMS is a one-stop shop for fulfilling these “components of happiness,” and your increased involvement in the WMS will almost assuredly improve the quality of YOUR life!! It has certainly done that for me.

Looking at the year ahead of me as WMS President, I am once again reminded of the depth of talent that surrounds us in this Society. For me, being president is all about leading, building consensus, and helping our Board of Directors be as strategic and productive as possible. I will continue to push for this, and we will improve upon the work we have been doing these past several years. Here are a few of the things I’m looking forward to:

  • The WMS has embarked upon an entire website and member database overhaul with plans to complete and launch in 2022. This will make it easier for the WMS staff to serve its members, make the website easier to navigate, and allow for increased connections among members. Plus, a new design means new and very cool WMS swag!
  • After three successful virtual conferences, the WMS will venture forth with our first hybrid in-person/ virtual conference this February in Jackson, WY.
  • Reboot of Adventure CME as we continue to emerge from the Covid pandemic
  • Utilizing our rebranding to improve our messaging and communication, both to members and to the huge numbers of potential new members

No matter what the WMS ventures into next, I’m confident we’ll do it with enthusiasm, inclusion, and the passion that the WMS embodies – being alive in the wild!! Our Society has grown in its influence and impact through member engagement and input since its founders gathered in 1983. Your participation is key, and it can reflect your personal interests. Contribute! We are going places, doing good work, having fun and all together, in COMMUNITY!

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.

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