This year the Wilderness Medical Society celebrated forty years since its initial founding in 1983. It started with three founders, Drs. Paul Auerbach, Ed Geehr, and Ken Kizer, and has grown into a global organization with more than 4,000 members in over 40 countries. The WMS has meant many things to many different people and has created lasting memories along the way. The student and resident conference ambassador scholarship winners at this year’s summer conference took a few moments to interview various members on what the WMS means to them, their favorite memories, and what they see in the future for the WMS!
Leslie Drapzia, MD
Family Medicine, Oregon
How did you first get involved in WMS?
I first learned about WMS after I was a patient myself in a search and rescue situation. Two of the rescuers were WMS members. After they found out I was a physician, they recommended WMS and the FAWM fellowship.
What has been your favorite WMS memory?
My favorite experience has been the simple mechanical advantages workshop at this conference. I learned new skills, such as the 4:1 system with a load line. It has been great to get hands on experience.
What are you most looking forward to in the future of WMS?
I am looking forward to getting to know more like-minded folks that combine wilderness and medicine. I would really love to go on one of the adventure CME trips in the future!
Jay Lemery, MD, Past WMS President
Emergency Medicine, Colorado
How did you first get involved with WMS?
My first experience with the WMS was when I went to the 2005 conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
What has been your favorite WMS moment?
We had a big after-conference party in Snowmass, sometime between 2007-2010? It was one hell of a party!
What are you most looking forward to in the future of WMS?
I am looking forward to increased opportunities and the energy from the WMS leadership and our new members.
Kara Hatlevoll, DO, MS
Emergency Medicine Resident, Oklahoma
What brings you to this conference?
Fun friends and learning to do all the fun things that I enjoy!
When was your first WMS Conference?
My first conference was 2019 in Crested Butte as a third year medical student.
How was your first conference?
It was absolutely amazing because very quickly I was brought into the folds and all of these big names in emergency medicine and wilderness medicine were like, “Oh yeah, come hang out with us! Come with us to get drinks! Come get dinner!” I just immediately started building a network of mentors and friends.
What are you most looking forward to at this conference?
I am applying for fellowship this year so the networking opportunities and getting to know the programs and not just the people is very exciting.
What has been the most fun part of the conference so far?
We had a wonderful little spontaneous jam session on the roof last night… That’s not something you get at other professional conferences.
Seth Collings Hawkins, MD, Editor-at-Large for Wilderness Medicine Magazine
Emergency Medicine, North Carolina
What does the WMS mean do you?
So for me, it is the importance of developing the science and trappings of a medical science to give us a legitimacy to ensure the care that is delivered in the wilderness, remote, and backcountry areas is as good in quality (if not exactly the same in character) as it is in the middle of the city.
What is your favorite WMS moment?
There was a meeting in the Gulf of Mexico, which was a really cool one on climate change and environmentalism. It wasn’t the best attended meeting, but Carl Hein and Lynn Yonge put it on, and it was just such a cool, different space- literally a different geographic space- in Louisiana. We talked about wetlands, the gulf, the recent oil spill there. This was back in 2006-2008 and at that time, the intersection of human health, wilderness health, planetary health wasn’t talked about as commonly as now. It was such a great meeting. Carl got a house for all of the speakers and members to hang out in. It was a one-off opportunity that was just a great memory.
What are you most looking forward to in the future of WMS?
Oh man, I can easily answer this one! When I came into the WMS, in about 1992, it was exclusively a physician society that had so called associate members, people who weren’t physicians. At that point in time, it was how medicine worked, but it is so outdated now. I am really excited to see the broadening representation of what wilderness medicine really is. Even then, people practicing wilderness medicine weren’t largely physicians – they were ski patrol, military, outdoor guides, technical rescue teams, firefighters, etc. All those people now have a home here and I think that is fantastic. I love that we have widened our scope for the WMS community. I also am so excited about the entire rebranding and re-energizing of the WMS. I have been with the magazine for years, and we had an old, meaningless logo. I am a graphics guy and I just love the new branding, the new imagery, and the new motto!
Lawrence LeBlond, MD
Family Medicine and Emergency Medicine, Tennessee
What were you most excited about for this conference?
Getting to see friends, hopefully learning more new stuff…It’s fun to get away from the ED every once in a while.
What’s been your favorite part of the conference so far?
So far, I’ve liked some of the freediving stuff they were talking about yesterday. It was pretty neat!
What kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to get into wilderness medicine?
Don't get discouraged by trying to figure out your niche in wilderness medicine. Some people come in with years of experience, some people come in very fresh. They know they enjoy the wilderness, maybe they have been camping their whole life, but they don’t know how to make that part of their career. Keep your doors open and let people know you’re interested in wilderness medicine. Through residency, I had a lot of the attendings who would ask something like, ‘We need to medically clear someone going to Everest. How do we do that?’ and I would walk the attendings through that and other things like getting cleared for scuba diving, malaria in pregnant patients, tons of snakebites, etc. Once your name got out, people would call you up saying, “Hey we need you to come look at this!” and that still happens.
What does the Wilderness Medical Society mean to you?
It has been great to be able to take something that I love and move it into my profession and the Wilderness Medical Society has helped a lot with that!
Katherine Kelley, MD
Trauma Surgery, Pennsylvania
Can you tell me about your first WMS conference?
I went to the one in Jackson Hole. It was really great and I enjoyed doing the outdoor activities. I learned how to skin up a mountain on skis and some avalanche rescue techniques, which were awesome.
What does the WMS mean to you?
Mostly a place where I can hang out with other medical professionals who love being outside as much as I do!
Do you plan to come back to a WMS conference?
Yes, definitely! I am planning on attending the upcoming one in Whistler.
Danielle Heinlein-Ball, NP
Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Utah
What drew you to wilderness medicine, how did you start getting involved?
After I completed my RN, I had a couple of months to relax, but quickly realized as I am a Type A person, I needed something else. I discovered the WMS and thought an opportunity to combine nursing, the medical community, and my favorite hobbies was very interesting, so I said, ‘Why not join?!” I found the FAWM and over the last 6 years have been chipping away at it, so I’d say that is truly what got me involved.
How many WMS conferences have you attended? Which was your favorite?
This is my third conference. I pretty much have been attending every other year. My favorite location was probably Breckenridge, Colorado (also my first conference), but I am glad to be back in my home state with my husband for this one!
Do you have a most memorable or favorite moment from a WMS conference?
One of my favorites was actually just the other night during the welcome meeting. I got a chance to meet a lot of like-minded people for the first time and now that I have my FAWM, I feel like my confidence is higher being here. I love getting to talk about things that we all have in common and our love of wilderness-related stuff despite the difference in our roles and degrees. I also got the chance to attend the first timers welcome party as this is my husband's first conference and I really enjoyed the smaller setting to meet new people and see some fresh faces!
Mary Schaefer Badger, DO
Internal Medicine, Washington
How did you start getting involved with wilderness medicine? What are your main interests?
I have always been interested in the outdoors since Girl Scouts. I’ve loved hiking, backpacking, and road cycling. I’m not so much a climber or water sports person. It has been nice to be able to combine wilderness and internal medicine; I still teach backpacking and first aid to students sometimes. I am also big into climate health as well. I would discuss this with not only my students but also my patients. I give lectures to the Washington and Oregon Osteopathic Medical Associations on climate health as well as through Kaiser, who I used to work for.
When did you start coming to WMS conferences or join the society in general?
Probably the early 90s and have been coming to the conferences since I joined. First published for them in 2008.
Anything new on the horizon from you?
I am currently working on something for the WMS Climate Change & Health Issue. It will cover the intersection of Geriatrics, Climate Change, and Wilderness and Austere Medicine. Since the geriatric population is increasing, the number of elderly people going into the wilderness is also increasing so this is an important area to pay attention to. There is not a lot out there on this topic yet, so I am excited to be working on it.
Fondest WMS conference memories?
Then AWLS course, maybe 16 years ago in Snowmass, Colorado. It was good to practice some fun skills we had learned and after, I was asked to be an instructor for the course so that was nice. AWLS is something I can apply in the backcountry on my own and when I am leading backpacking trips. I got some real-world experience once when snowshoeing on Copper Mountain. I came across a woman who had gotten stuck in her skis on a cat track and was hypothermic. We got her warmed up and down to the base where they had just started her search.
Renita Fonseca, CAE, CMP
WMS Chief Executive Officer, Texas
What is your favorite outdoor activity?
Hiking and canoeing.
How did you first get involved with the WMS?
For me, not being a WM expert, running associations such as the WMS is my area of expertise. I was in radiology for sixteen years and when I saw this job open up, I thought, ‘Wilderness medicine, that’s amazing, I haven’t even heard of this specialty?’ I love the outdoors and to know that this specialty is dedicated to all things wilderness and medicine was super exciting. This is a dream job to be able to work with this community of medical professionals. And that was five years ago.
How many conferences have you been to?
Every one, winter and summer, since I joined the WMS! Also, a specialty conference in Stowe with co-founder Paul Auerbach was an extra conference I got to attend as well.
Most memorable WMS Conference memory?
The ice-axe workshop. I am from South India and had never even seen snow until I came to the US when I was sixteen. I was going to just attend and take photographs of the workshop, but there was an extra axe and helmet, so I joined along just for the heck of it. I had never even held an ice axe in my life, and I was now going to practice self-arresting! So fun, but it gets better. We were on a small hill for the workshop and the whole time I was just thinking that I would love to get to the top for the view and so at the end of class, I climbed up with confidence knowing there were professionals around to help me if I got myself in a pickle. The 360 view of mountains all around was truly worth it. The hike down was way steep though, and so I decided to just slide down. I started to pick up speed on an ice patch and had to quickly turn around and ‘real-world’ practice my self-arrest. I was successful! It was brilliant! The whole thing was caught on video with commentary from attendees, and is quite hilarious. This group just pushes me beyond my comfort zone as I had not grown up with these types of opportunities. It is certainly inspiring and so rewarding to work for the WMS.