Chamonix expedition medicine

Authors: Wendy Russell 

Publication date:  02 Dec 2009

Who is it for?

The Chamonix expedition medicine course is ideal for any medical professional with an interest in expedition or remote medicine, from those who are brand new to the subject to those who have previously been on expeditions. Healthcare professionals from all countries are equally welcomed. Candidates this year consisted of doctors, nurses, and medical students.

When did you do it?

I was a third year medical student at the time and was spending a six week placement in France.

Why did you do it?

I was exploring career paths and doing some elective planning, and I wanted to know more about the role and opportunities for an expedition medic. As I had no previous experience of expeditions except for the odd snowboarding trip, this course really helped me to get a feel of what is required for this kind of work in terms of medical skills and the personality required. I was totally hooked. Doing this course has given me the confidence to make more informed decisions on what kind of expedition I would like to do in the future.

What was the content of the course?

The course is run by Wilderness Medicine Training. It is taught in English and held in the beautiful town of Chamonix in the French Alps, an hour from Geneva airport. There were eight speakers and guest lecturers, including Professor David Warrell, a leading clinical toxinologist, and Dr Jon Dallimore, a seasoned expedition medic, author and consultant.

The first afternoon consisted of a series of lectures on pre-expedition considerations, including information and advice from experts within the field on understanding tropical medicine, pre-existing disease management (for example, diabetes mellitus), and the all important indemnity. On day two the practical session was held out in the snow, where we learnt an array of skills from experienced expedition leaders, such as making a rope stretcher, trauma management and splints, and rope belaying.

Day three’s theme was field medicine. There were several highly useful trauma lectures pertinent to all terrains, from the polar caps to the tropics. This was followed by an interesting group discussion around a theoretical accident scenario. Discussing possible outcomes with my peers brought real insight into the difficulties that face an expedition medic, and how he or she can work through them.

On day four we felt truly at home in Chamonix, with the theme of mountain medicine. We learnt about high altitude conditions and cold injuries as well as how to identify avalanche risks. The final day’s subject was “Hot, wet and dangerous environments,” incorporating diving and swift water rescue, and military medicine.

Each evening was rounded off nicely with entertaining and inspiring talks from the lecturers. The whole course was sumptuous food for thought for those of the adventurous persuasion.

How much effort did it entail?

The organisers provided plenty of information on travel and accommodation in good time and put candidates in touch with each other so we could arrange accommodation together. The course had no prerequisites. We attended lectures for five half days, one of which was a useful outdoor practical session. A comprehensive 155 page, bound A5 handbook was included, as well as a free expedition first aid kit courtesy of a sponsor.

Is there an exam?

There is no formal assessment, but a certificate is issued.

How much did it cost?

The course cost £475 for doctors and a reduced fee of £350 for other medical professionals, including medical students. Many other delegates were able to carry out the course as part of their professional development and secured funding from their employer. Some medical students gained funding from their university “wilderness medicine societies,” and qualified for discount student ski passes.

Was it worth it?

Without doubt this type of course is a must for anyone who is in the business of expedition medicine or who would like to learn more before committing to a full blown expedition. The faculty exhibited a very warm welcome and all lecturers shared their expertise with great enthusiasm. The content of the course was extremely comprehensive for all territories and was not just restricted to high altitude environments. I felt that the level was pitched in a well balanced way so as to uphold the interest of the entire group, which was made up of many people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Top tip

  • There is free time during the course for you to ski, snowboard, or climb, so make the most of this. Chamonix has the most fantastic skiable domains and ice walls for you to explore.

Further information

The next Chamonix winter course is 24-28 January 2010. Contact Wilderness Medical Training; tel: +44(0)1539 823183; email:  wmt@wildernessmedicaltraining.co.uk; [Link] .

Competing interests: None declared.

Wendy Russell third year medical student University of Sheffield


Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: