written by Paige Souder

Asher Patrick WildernessAsher Krell and Patrick Molina chat about the Advance Wilderness Life Support (AWLS) at UAB

Wilderness Medicine: using practical medical knowledge to tackle real-world problems in the absence of modern day medical technologies. Sound intriguing? Second year MSTP students, Asher Krell and Patrick Molina, think yes. These trailblazers put their interest to action by attending the Advanced Wilderness Life Support (AWLS) course over the summer at Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve (a top-notch hiking spot, if you haven’t been). This was a course intended to provide attendees with training in medical techniques that you can use when you’re not in a traditional healthcare setting, i.e. UAB Hospital. The course lasted ~2.5 days (Friday afternoon—Sunday) and consisted of half lecture-based and half experience-based learning. The course attracted a multidisciplinary audience, ranging from EMTs to nurses to physicians (including Asher’s dad, Dr. James Krell) to medical students like Patrick and Asher. “One of the most valuable parts of the experience was to bring people from these different disciplines together and facilitate discussion,” said Asher. Particulars learned in the course included acronyms to help guide patient care in wilderness situations, such as M.A.R.C.H. (major hemorrhage, airway, respiration, circulation, head injury/hypothermia). “There are situations when something could go wrong on the trail when it would be very valuable to know what response to have in those situations, beyond the textbook,” said Asher.

One concept that was emphasized in the course was being able to react to unanticipated situations and “think out of the box.” Simulations were designed to challenge participants to pool their innovation/resourcefulness and tackle a problem. “I was wrapped up and dragged around in a well-insulated sleeping bag to simulate the treatment of hypothermia. But that was one of the most exciting parts  of  the  course,”

Patrick commented. The hands-on aspect covered topics from hypothermia to hemorrhage, leaving students feeling comfortable to tackle these issues in the wild. “It really takes you back to the art of medicine, making a gross diagnosis to stabilize the patient as much as possible.” Asher followed that an intimate knowledge of anatomy is required to know how to handle these situations in the absence of modern medical equipment and pharmaceuticals.

The most enthralling thing they learned in the course? “If you’re going to drown, drown in freezing water because you have a better chance of saving your brain . . . plan wisely,” Patrick and Asher mused.

Drs. Burnett and Schrading (rad-onc and ER) from UAB were also involved and are helping Asher—who leads the Wilderness Medicine Interest Group at the medical school—take the knowledge they learned from the course back to their colleagues. “No matter what specialty you’re in, you can apply the tools from wilderness medicine in your field.”