As an expedition leader at the Carolina Outdoor Education Center at UNC-CH, I lead students from all backgrounds and ability levels on backpacking, sea kayaking, and rock climbing trips. My job is to facilitate participants’ experience so that they can gain the most learning and personal growth from each trip. However, each of these activities encompasses varying degrees of inherent risk. The COEC’s policies and procedures are in place to create the most productive, safe environment for growth, but even these and other risk management strategies cannot eliminate risk altogether. Therefore, I knew that as an instructor it would be crucial for me to have the training to be prepared if an emergency ever occurred. Wilderness First Aid training provided some of that, but the depth of knowledge and skills I believe necessary when taking responsibility for others was only offered by the full Wilderness First Responder course. This is why I decide to become WFR certified.
The course itself far exceeded my expectations—the instructors were extremely knowledgeable and competent, able to guide and refine our learning and skills along every step. Practicing our skills in frequent scenarios allowed us to simulate what a situation might look like in real life, and the most informative ones were those that I didn’t have all the answers for. Beyond the concrete knowledge of wilderness medicine, some of the most valuable skills I gained were in managing patients and groups of people—responders and patients alike. Even if you know the best course of action, distressed patients or distracting responders can make applying one’s knowledge far more difficult. I learned many interpersonal and group management strategies that I can bring back to my role as a group facilitator at the COEC.
Although I have not had to use my wilderness medicine knowledge on a trip so far, and I hope I rarely do, I feel confident in my ability to address a situation should it arise. This training allows me to focus on participant growth and development, without having to worry about knowing how to respond to an accident or injury should one occur. Furthermore, my wilderness medicine training has made me more confident about my ability to respond to emergencies in the frontcountry, as well, and I know that I have the knowledge and skills to potentially save a life. Overall, I feel that I gained far more than an understanding of wilderness medicine through my WFR training, but also a myriad of other skills that I can apply as an outdoor educator and beyond.