Like much of society, wilderness medicine schools, outdoor education and recreation programs, and guiding services have been impacted by uncertainty and change during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many outdoor programs have suspended programming for the indefinite future. As well, the members of the Wilderness Medicine Education Collaborative (WMEC)—Wilderness Medical Associates, NOLS, SOLO, Aerie Backcountry Medicine, Desert Mountain Medicine, and the Wilderness Medicine Training Center - have all suspended programs.
This comes at a time of year where many who work in the outdoors as guides, trip leaders, camp counselors, and outdoor educators seek wilderness medicine certification and re-certification. The WMEC met virtually in late March to discuss how to support students during the pandemic when courses are unavailable, the situation fluid, and re-start dates for in-person training unclear. We are all extending certifications and have agreed to honor each other's extension dates. The exact parameters of those extensions vary by the school (see contact information below) but none of us will abandon our students during this COVID-19 crisis. Each WMEC member school has online curriculum for those who wish to keep their knowledge current, and all are working to augment those resources.
We are also engaging in conversations on what our programs may look like when we reopen. Wilderness medicine courses by necessity must include hands-on skill practice and simulations which do not lend themselves to physical distancing, a critical element in slowing the spread of the virus or its reemergence in the future. Moving forward, we are working to answer two crucial questions:
First, can we safely run in-person courses if we use gloves and masks, implement mandatory handwashing after each skill lab and simulation, regularly disinfect community surfaces and equipment, and modify simulations to mitigate face-to-face risk.
Second, if it is not safe to hold in-person courses, can we fill the educational gap with online courses? If so, what would they look like? While many schools have hybrid courses blending online and hands-on wilderness medicine curriculum, the concept of fully online certification is of concern in a skillset founded on realistic practice scenarios where instructors guide students to competence.
At a time when outdoor programs are suspended, program administrators are finding themselves quite busy wrestling with novel and fundamental questions. If there is a chance to run any summer programs – the lifeblood of many camps and schools – is accelerated staff training possible? Will masks now accompany gloves as standard components of first aid kits and if so, will these be common surgical masks, N95 masks or both? What do protocols look like for participants who develop respiratory illness? How do we update screening guidelines and release forms? Will participants need to be tested for COVID-19 prior to participation?
Changing curriculum and protocols seem inevitable in the long term; in the short term, student and staff support and simple school economic survival are daily realities.
For details on the certification extensions offered by members of the WMEC, please see:
Wilderness Medical Associates International: https://www.wildmed.com/wmai-covid-19-update/
NOLS Wilderness Medicine: https://www.nols.edu/en/about/resources/travel-notices/
Aerie Backcountry Medicine: https://www.aeriemedicine.com/
Desert Mountain Medicine: https://desertmountainmedicine.com/dmm-covid-19-update/
Wilderness Medicine Training Center: https://www.wildmedcenter.com/covid-19.html
The Wilderness Medicine Education Collaborative is a group of medical educators representing wilderness medicine schools (WMAI, NOLS, SOLO, ABM, DMM, WMTC) who are interested in providing leadership and guidance for wilderness medicine courses and a forum for discussing questions of appropriate curriculum content, practice guidelines, and trends and issues in wilderness medicine. Our goal is collaboration, not regulation or accreditation.