As a first-time attendee, I found the entire conference atmosphere to be welcoming and embracing. I greatly appreciated the networking and friendship-building opportunities. The Careers in Wilderness Medicine mentoring session offered a formal setting in which to ask questions and receive guidance from experts at different stations including education, EMS, dive medicine, research, and expedition medicine. Skiing and evening chats over dinner, around a bonfire, or in the hotel hot tub provided casual settings for networking and friendship-building.
I look forward to future conferences as much for the interesting lectures and workshops as for the chance to reconnect with new friends and future colleagues.
Perfect Combination of Learning and Connection
Sally Peterson, MS, MD
There was a palpable thrill present at this year’s WMS meeting in Jackson. At the first welcome reception, it was clear that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. The joy of being together with old friends and the promise of new ones was obvious on all the masked faces in the room. The powerful, overwhelming concept that kept surfacing in some form throughout every activity and lecture was inclusivity, which worked well with the official theme of the conference: elevate.
On the night of the keynote speech, WMS CEO Renita Fonseca enthusiastically shared the new logo of the WMS and spoke of the renewed vision of the brand moving forward. The concept of inclusivity was again front and center to remind both members, potential members, and the world that we are here to serve and broaden our reach as a community of medical professionals. Soon after, the gregarious Mirna Valerio took the podium and inspired all with tales of her years of grueling work to pursue her dreams and what she loves. Mixed in with the motivating story of her rise to fame, the “Mirnavator” spoke of her experiences as a “larger woman in a world of thinner athletes” and as a minority within the ultrarunning community. Her unique perspective brought about great conversation and highlighted the changing culture and all-inclusive future of both ultra-endurance sports and wilderness medicine.
In the preceding days, the lectures and events provided an abundance of new ideas and fresh takes on new concepts in our field. Dr. Cori Poffenberger gave an eye-opening talk on making activities in nature more accessible to disabled persons and the challenges they and their families face daily when trying to enjoy nature. The career mentoring session was full of innovative and experienced providers who spoke of the challenges of making wilderness medicine a career. They also suggested normalizing failures amongst our community of practitioners so that members early in their career do not get discouraged, but instead feel empowered to pursue their dreams.
One of my favorite ideas came during a Q&A session with Sarah Spelsberg, an experienced PA and third year medical student. She shared her distinctive, personal philosophy when approaching mountaineering. She has been an avid climber for over 15 years, but she NEVER summits. Mind-blowing, right? She will stop somewhere short of the summit as a homage to the mountain and the experience itself. In a room composed of some of the most accomplished outdoor athletes I have ever met, I loved this fresh perspective that challenges our general idea that “summitting” is the only endpoint worth pursuing.
This was my first experience at a WMS conference, but it will not be my last. It was a perfect combination of learning and connection, not to mention the world-class skiing that left me breathless, both literally and figuratively. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this progressive, active community and hope to meet many new faces at the summer conference in July!
David Wilson, MS-IV
I initially had my reservations about attending the WMS winter conference virtually. I first attended a WMS conference in person back in 2018. I was just a pre-med student and Outward Bound instructor, but I felt brought in as part of the community, and at one dinner I found myself sharing a table with Peter Hackett, Paul Auerbach, and Luanne Freer! I was dubious that I would be able to find the same sense of belonging and ability to meet people in the virtual space. My comically short attention span in front of a computer was also a concern. However, when I looked in my bank account and found cobwebs instead of commas, I figured I would give the (less expensive) virtual version a chance. I’m so glad I tried it!
Although, for me, the conference was virtual, the culture of the WMS still shone through. Not just through the speakers, but also through the chatbox during each talk. In person, the conversations that are ignited by a speaker happen during breaks and happy hours, but in the virtual environment we can chat all we want during a lecture without interrupting the speaker or the people sitting around us. Whether virtual or in person, the space is full of people who love the outdoors and taking care of people who spend their time outside. Despite the virtual environment, I still found my place.
Of course, feeling a sense of belonging does not automatically mean forming one-on-one connections with other attendees. The conference held virtual networking events and a platform to have conversations with other attendees throughout the week which were both great. However, my camera was off for over 90% of the time (I couldn’t let people see how I was dressed in the comfort of my own home). It was definitely a trade-off– I was able to fold laundry while learning about hypothermia, but I did miss out on the more organic opportunities for networking.
The overall highlight for me was the engagement I had with the content. I have been experiencing “virtual medical school” for the past two years and I know that my attention span on Zoom is… lacking. Given that, I give much credit to the speakers and the conference organizers because I felt engaged with lectures all day long and was able to synthesize information with trivia questions provided at the end of a block of lectures (I didn’t win, but I tried). I would definitely virtually attend another WMS conference in the future.
Screenshot of one of the many trivia questions provided at the end of lecture blocks to help with content retention.