Class in the wild
SUMMIT COUNTY – With warm days and sunny skies, summer might not seem the time for class. But it’s ideal when the wilderness is the classroom.
About 15 Colorado Mountain College (CMC) students and their instructors are spending two weeks in nearby wilderness as a part of the school’s new Wilderness Emergency Medical Services program.
Though CMC has offered basic EMT (emergency medical technician) classes before, this is the first time it has offered those skills while also incorporating a wilderness certification segment. It’s the first of several wilderness medical courses the college will offer.
“Each semester, we’ll have a different type of (wilderness) course,” said Bonnie Osborn, CMC division director at the Breckenridge campus. “Some will be focused on EMT needs, some on paramedics, doctors, nurses or other certified medical (professionals).”
According to Osborn, CMC is the first community college to offer wilderness medical courses. Typically, only private institutions offer the programs – which might be surprising, considering the demand for medical professionals trained in wilderness emergencies.
“They are highly, highly sought out by any kind of search and rescue group, river companies, ski companies – any kind of outdoor training centers or outdoor adventure companies,” Osborn said. “They always need medical people on staff. When you’re on an adventure trip, you need to have the ability to respond to a medical emergency without S all the (standard) equipment and supplies available to you.”
The students enrolled in this summer’s course are planning careers in the medical field – whether they’re just entering the workforce or changing careers.
Erik Swanson, Kristin Shigley and Andy Kubica are taking the course because they want to go to medical school and work in a hospital. Chris Turturici plans to pursue a career in firefighting, and Carrie Nelson, who owns a horse camp for kids in Gypsum, wants to become an EMT. Henry Yu wants to become a ski patroller.
The students began the four-week course in the classroom, where they learned basic EMT skills such as CPR, resuscitation, clearing airways and splinting. It’s an intensive program that runs all day, five days a week for the first two weeks.
After learning the basics, the group headed into the wilderness for two weeks of wilderness training. This portion of the course builds on the EMT skills, Osborn said, and gives the students experience in improvising in a wilderness emergency.
“When you learn wilderness skills, you learn how to make do with what’s available,” she said. “For example, you could use the branch of a tree for a splint. You could use a couple of oars as a backboard to carry people.”
In the wilderness, the students learn not only to craft medical supplies from what’s around them, but also how to treat some of the hazards and injuries common in the backcountry, such as hypothermia, heatstroke, encounters with animals and toxic plants.
Once the students complete the course, state regulations require they work with an emergency medical team – riding with the paramedics at Summit Ambulance or in the emergency room at Denver General Hospital, for example – before they are certified.
Though the need for emergency wilderness medics might seem obvious in Summit County, where thousands of people recreate each year, there is a need across the country, Osborn said.
“We’ve had a lot of requests from river and outdoor companies for wilderness-trained EMTs and wilderness-trained nurses,” she said. “We’re trying to meet a demand, and it’s not just here in Summit County – the demand is nationwide.”
Though CMC officials expect the school will soon be inundated and have to add classes to its new wilderness focus, there are no plans to offer it at other campuses in the state – primarily because of the program’s cost. In addition to the EMT supplies such as mannequins and IVs required to offer the course, the school must also supply outdoor equipment such as rafts, tents and cooking supplies.
“It’d be foolish for other campuses to purchase the same kinds of things,” Osborn said.
For information on the program, contact Colorado Mountain College Summit County campus at (970) 453-6757.
Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or
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