Rappelling and rock climbing are among the range of activities that fourth-year medical students participate in during a two-week elective course in Wilderness Medicine. The intensive curriculum takes students out of the hospital and into the woods,
lakes and mountains. Developed and led by Schlein, associate professor of emergency medicine and fellowship director for the UVM Health Network Wilderness Medicine Fellowship, the course provides an opportunity to focus on both the content and
problem-solving of caring for patients in remote environments. Chance Sullivan, M.D., clinical instructor for emergency medicine and a Wilderness Medicine Fellow, also instructs the course.
“We put people in scenarios, and we
talk about what happens. Not just about the medical parts, but about the communication, leadership, and where things break down. The goal is to make mistakes and learn from each other,” said Schlein.
The students spend each day
of the course outdoors, learning and practicing skills for rescuing people from drowning, diving accidents, altitude sickness, hypothermia, crush injuries, and suspension trauma. They kayak and canoe at Waterbury Reservoir, hike Mount Mansfield,
and camp overnight in backcountry woods. They also train with New York State forest rangers in the Adirondack high peaks, learning about mountaintop rescues and how to properly hoist people into a helicopter. In a winter version of the course
that was offered for the first time this January, students worked in the Mt. Mansfield State Forest with members of Stowe Mountain Rescue and experienced backcountry snow sports, ice climbing and winter camping while learning how to use avalanche
beacons, start fires in the snow, and treat frostbite and ski injuries.
Feinberg took the course because she enjoys spending time outdoors and the challenge of trying new things, which she hopes to apply to her career as an obstetrician-gynecologist.
“I love the idea of being a doctor without being in a hospital,” she said. “My dream is to work part time in a hospital and part time on expedition, helping people who want to be outside. For example, I could work at a research
base in Alaska, or on hiking trips in the Grand Canyon specifically for women. It would be cool to be the doctor on board.”
Kyle Kellett '23 feels at home in wilderness settings: He rock climbs recreationally and serves on the Colchester Technical Rescue dive team. He enjoys helping others conquer their fears in the water, on the mountain and in the preoperative unit.
As a future doctor, he plans to focus on anesthesia: “It’s hands-on, fast paced, high stakes medicine. I also love the people interaction part. Surgery is a scary thing for people coming into the hospital. I like being the last face
they see, talking them off the ledge, giving them some comfort.”
The opportunity to use problem-solving skills and think quickly in an austere environment attracted Megan Eubank '23 to the Wilderness Medicine course, along with the adrenaline-inducing thrill that comes with rappelling and climbing. As a future
doctor, she plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine. “I really like the variety of patients, the pacing, and the idea of not knowing what you’re walking into each day. Every day is different, so you never get bored,” she