A Walk on the Wild Side

Physicians can find themselves having to provide emergency medical care without today’s technology in a variety of situations — from recreation to disaster relief.

Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine launched a Wilderness and Austere Medicine selective to teach students how to provide care for individuals injured in resource-limited and diverse environmental conditions.

A unique component of the medical school’s individualized learning is the 25 weeks of “selective” time protected within the first two years of school. Selectives allow students to explore both clinical and research interests. Students benefit from this independence, which allows them to refine their career goals and plans for the future.

The new Wilderness and Austere Medicine selective provides an introduction to delivering medical expertise in rugged environments. The diverse topography and microclimates of Arizona provide an optimal environment for in-depth practical learning of skills and experience in conditions ranging from high-altitude mountain ranges to the Sonoran Desert environment. The students learn basic survival skills, such as how to navigate with a map and compass, how to build a fire and shelter, and how to locate water and edible plants. After the one-week course in the field, students emerge with crucial skills in patient assessment in the wilderness, evacuation decision-making, and diagnosis and treatment of altitude sickness, dehydration and common wilderness injuries, while staying safe in the elements.

Students also explore research opportunities to determine predictors of mountain sickness, the mildest form of altitude sickness.

Major Benefactors Gordon and Marjorie Burns helped fund the Wilderness and Austere Medicine selective implementation in Arizona. Inspired by Mr. Burns’ own experience with altitude threats as a pilot, their gift was in honor of the program director, Jan Stepanek, M.D.

A similar program is available to students in Rochester focusing on medicine in remote areas such as the Boundary Waters, a wilderness area of over 1 million acres within the Superior National Forest in northeast Minnesota.■

Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine is educating medical students to solve the complex health care issues facing our world by pairing engineering skills with clinical expertise to ensure the needs of the patient always come first. Support the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science to turn learners into leaders.