The call of the wild

Authors: Amy Morris 

Publication date:  18 Aug 2007

Amy Morris describes a course with a difference


Groups of nine people were sent out to rescue volunteers from one of the local mountains

As a junior doctor or healthcare professional it is easy to catch the course bug. You compete with colleagues to attend every available course to get those valuable spaces on your CV filled. The Expedition Medicine and Leadership UK course was a course with a difference, however. Great for anyone interested in the outdoors and wanting a general overview of medicine and health in remote environments.

Wealth of experience

This year it was hosted at Newlands adventure centre in Keswick in the Lake District. The accommodation was in dormitories with bunk beds, meals were served in a canteen reminiscent of school dinners, and the lectures were in a communal room. Having said that, the food provided by the centre's staff was excellent, and there was a well stocked bar on site for the evenings in. The location was fantastic, tucked away in the middle of the mountains of the Lake District, giving those of us with a call to the wild the chance to experience it during the evenings and time off. Transport was not provided; some delegates decided to brave the M6 by car, and others chose to come by train and bus.

The course attracted about 60 attendees with a variety of backgrounds. It was open to anyone with a medical background, and although it was mainly doctors who attended there were also nurses and paramedics. Some people came with groups of friends, but there was also lots of individuals. Experience ranged from myself, a new foundation year 1 doctor with little medical or expedition experience, to longstanding paramedics with emergency and major incident training, to consultants and general practitioners. The course cost £595 plus VAT which included all food, the event manual, and accommodation.

The four days were filled with lectures, practical sessions, and demonstrations. There were also talks in the evening from medics with interesting stories to tell. The timing of the course was about two weeks after the Cumbrian rail incident and one of the BASICS doctors who coordinated the scene was able to attend to recount his experience of the event.

There was also a wealth of experience shared from the tutors and lectures including expeditions and how to evacuate casualties, altitude medicine, diving medicine, health in a hot environment, health in a cold environment, how to promote good communication, how to lead a team, and one of the lecture highlights—expedition dentistry. I learnt that as a qualified doctor you are also qualified to remove teeth, something I never knew and will hopefully never have to do.

The practical sessions ranged from those with a medical background such as fracture immobilisation and RTA rescue scenarios, to more generic skills such as basic rope handling and safety on steep ground. The culmination of the course was a morning simulation of a mountain rescue task with volunteers from the local mountain rescue team. Groups of nine people were sent out to rescue volunteers from one of the local mountains and bring them to a rendezvous point where the local air ambulance came to show us what they could offer and how casualties are loaded into a helicopter. The scenario also offered the opportunity to see how coordinating a rescue and the use of air evacuation can prove problematic and not always be the miracle saviour you had hoped for.

Inspiring talks

The evening lectures were there to inspire people about what will be available in future. For example, we had lectures from Dr Jim Milledge who has done a lot of research on altitude physiology and was part of the team that worked in the silver hut in the Himalayas with Edmund Hillary during the 1960-1 Everest expedition, when they also made the first assent of Puma Dablam (6400m); Dr Theo Weston, a Cumbrian general practitioner and BASICS doctor who, as already mentioned, helped to coordinate the medical management of the Cumbrian rail crash just a couple of weeks earlier; and Dr Sean Hudson, a Keswick general practitioner and expedition medic who regaled us with his tales of casualty evacuations and the troubles he encountered while on expeditions.

I would highly recommend the course for anyone who has an interest in the outdoors, mountaineering, climbing, trekking, and travelling and think it is a must for anyone who is thinking of working as an expedition medic. The possibilities and opportunities available are vast and the course also touches on what is available and where to take your new-found confidence and information. One of the participants is shortly off to Greenland on an expedition that was offered to him while attending the course.

Other courses are offered in other locations such as jungle medicine in Borneo, polar medicine in Norway, and desert medicine in Namibia, and this course has enthused me to think about attending some of these courses and the possibility of a career in expedition medicine. For more information, visit the expedition medicine website [Link] for details of upcoming courses and jobs on offer.

[Amy paid to go on this course.]

Amy Morris F1 doctor West Cumbria Hospital, Whitehaven, Cumbria

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: