Volume , Issue

The WMS was excited to return to both in-person and online events at this year’s Summer Conference in Snowmass, CO from July 31-August 4. This year’s conference included 500+ attendees from 15 different countries. Below we hear from three learners who were part of the cohort that was awarded the WMS Conference Scholarship.

Inspiration and Connection

Jonathan Bauman, MD

University of Kansas Medical Center

It’s amazing how much the weather changes when driving to approximately 8200 ft. from a humble 900 ft. in Kansas City. The blissful cool mountain air was a fantastic reprieve from the sweltering 90° heat and humid weather to which I had just closed my car door. One might expect at a conference of medical professionals that everyone would be clothed in suits, ties, dress shoes, dresses, and other formal attire. I walked into a plethora of hiking boots, Chacos, REI, Patagonia, and Arcteryx gear and immediately knew I was in the right place. From this fantastic start, the rest of the conference did not disappoint.

The true spirit of “wilderness” was at the forefront of the conference: tales of heroic (and sometimes tragic) mountain rescues, obligatory helicopter pictures, a glimpse at a Titanic wreck exploration crew, and stories of austere medicine experiences in the most remote places imaginable.

Some highlights for me included:

  1. Dr. Olen Netteburg’s absolutely astounding stories of life and medicine in Chad over the last 10 years. In a sentence, ER docs do it all (almost).
  2. Dr. Ben Abo’s tragic but fascinating stories from the Surfside Complex collapse in Florida this past year with pertinent reminders about urban SAR and the restorative properties of community.
  3. The overall healing power of nature and the wilderness as told by Drs. Harry Grammer and Christine Norton. Dr. Grammer’s fascinating lecture focused on how wilderness connects and grounds at-risk youths and gives them a sense of belonging that they might otherwise have found in gang activity. Dr. Norton’s talk encompassed how nature affects our mental health and how we can harness that.

I had a fantastic time meeting and being inspired by the other conference-goers. Seeing the multitude of careers and opportunities available to pursue this niche of medicine was extremely motivating. After four days, as well as many hikes, beers, and tacos at Venga Venga later, I left feeling utterly refreshed and renewed in my mission to pursue wilderness medicine. The stories heard and more importantly the interactions with fellow participants left me wanting more. I’ll certainly be looking to attend a future conference and refill my wilderness tank.

Dr. Jonathan Bauman on a hike to Cathedral Lake with multiple WMS Conference participants.

The Virtual Wilderness

Danusha Sanchez, MD, PMP, MIS, NREMT, NASM-CPT

Lizards, beavers, and hippos – oh my! As a first-time attendee, I was curious about the practicality of learning about the wilderness from my couch. It seems contradictory, right? Wrong! We had effective networking events, fiercely competitive trivia contests, interactive conference challenges, and tons of mind-blowing educational lectures from dangerous animals to safety precautions.

I’ve always considered animals adorable and harmless. Take Beave the TikTok beaver. Cute right? Wrong! Benjamin Woodward taught us how to stay safe from these DANGEROUS territorial animals who often get rabies. In one case, a traveler got his femoral artery bitten while taking a selfie! My main takeaway: Don’t try to take a selfie with a beaver.

What about lizards? Wouldn’t it be cool to tame a dragon? Unless you want to risk death from a Komodo dragon’s deadly venom, you probably should consider Dr. Dugan’s comically presented evacuation considerations: “Make sure to travel with a slow friend.”

When I think of hippopotami, I think of Madagascar’s Gloria. So, I was in disbelief when Dr. Netteburg shared stories of the austere life in Chad, showing how physicians try to treat attacks from one of the world’s deadliest animals: the hippo.

It is essential to note that the wilderness can be a safe place with education and preparation. This is why Dr. Van Tilburg emphasized the importance of social media influencers to accurately portray adventures and prevent inexperienced followers from underestimating the challenge. Even experienced providers learned at this conference, as seen in the pre-trivia questions on pregnancy in the wilderness. Linda Sanders did a phenomenal job enlightening us that high-risk sports, like climbing, do not have to be high risk in pregnancy and can be done relatively safely if adjustments are made (i.e., using a full-body harness after the first trimester). My takeaway: The wilderness can be safe if you are informed.

In summary, despite being miles away in Poland, I feel like I got what I put into the conference. I made new friends because I was involved in well-organized networking events. I learned new wilderness skills because I competed in the conference challenges which forced me to document my attempts and I even got to do some virtual open-water swimming thanks to Dr. Kammert! I had so much fun that I’m curious to compare it to in-person as I felt I did not miss out on much except for maybe the rumored hot-tub networking event?

Dr. Sanchez and several other virtual attendees networking over a conference call.

Watercolor painting by Jolanta Winiarska inspired by experiences at WMS conference lectures. Screenshot of the winners of virtual trivia on Day 1.

Dr. Katie Kammert warming up the audience for her lecture using open-water swimming exercises.


A Great Learning Opportunity

Abigail Davies, MD

Can I just say…what a cool committee! The greatest advantage of being able to attend in person was being able to meet the people that make the magic happen. This was my debut WMS conference and one of my most memorable experiences was the first-time attendee meet-and-greet. We were encouraged to introduce ourselves and share what brought us to wilderness medicine. This was my first opportunity to reflect on the sentiment shared by Ross Hofmeyr: “We are more united by our similarities than divided by our differences.”

I was part of the South African team that presented a workshop on wilderness pain management and field-expedient blocks – I hope those who attended took as much away from that experience as I did. The other workshop I was lucky enough to participate in was the MedWAR. It was epic! I can best describe it as a fusion of realistic simulations and practical skill application performed in a semi-competitive environment. The scenarios covered everything: diving complications, high altitude sickness, rock climbing, lightning strike injuries, and even plant poisonings.

Top things I learned:
As a medical provider, I am always interested how to pack an essential med kit to best serve the variety of potential scenarios I may be confronted with on an expedition. I learned at this conference that the single most essential item in a med kit is always ketamine.

I really enjoyed Christopher Peluso’s talk on pediatric complex field care where he eloquently raised the issues surrounding the appropriate timing and challenges of safely introducing children into the wilderness. He also emphasized the importance of taking advanced and definitive care to the patient and prioritizing investigations of which the results can realistically be acted upon. The specific nugget I will be taking home is that sodium bicarbonate can be used to make hypertonic saline.

My favorite lecture was that on working in high-risk environments. What I took away is 1) Don’t be bait, 2) Don’t be confrontational, 3) Don’t participate in your own rescue, and 4) Always leave a Coke can by your USB. Best quote: “Take responsibility for your own safety: Denial has no survival value.”

The value of non-pharmacological analgesia and a structured approach to psychological first aid for wilderness pain was very useful to me as an anesthesiologist-in-training. It was interesting to hear how often methoxyflurane was mentioned across the conference and after hearing the science I look forward to seeing it make a total comeback in the US.

I feel very privileged and grateful for the opportunity. Coming from South Africa, where there is still no formal wilderness medicine training structure, this has been invaluable for my personal development in the field and I hope to take home and share the knowledge with others.

WMS first-timers meet-and-greet.

Pain management and FERBs (field-expedient regional block) workshop.

"Pink Panthers” team for MedWAR (C. Luke Adams, Ross Hofmeyr, Abigail Davies, Ziva Petrin).